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Closing the Engagement Gap
January 16, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 8
Table of Contents 

How Do Teachers Want Students to Cope with Boredom?

Lia M. Daniels and Virginia M. C. Tze

Boredom may be considered the antithesis of engagement. Characterized by more than simply an unpleasant feeling, boredom involves physiological slowing down, reduced concentration, low motivation, and a desire to escape the situation (Pekrun, Goetz, Daniels, Stupnisky, & Perry, 2010). In school, boredom is reported in about 40 percent of all academic situations and has been shown to impede achievement almost as much as feeling anxious (Daniels et al., 2009). We know this, and a great deal more about boredom, because of the increase in boredom research in the last five years. This research has especially approached the study of boredom through the theoretical lens of the control-value theory of emotions (Pekrun, 2006). The control-value theory of emotions suggests that learning situations characterized by low control (e.g., assigned topics without any choice) and low value (e.g., lacking meaning) create a perfect storm for boredom. Researchers identified four common categories of strategies for coping with boredom arising from low control or low value (Nett, Goetz, & Daniels, 2010):

  1. Cognitive approach: thinking differently to change the situation. Example: "This is important to know. I will pay attention."
  2. Cognitive avoidance: thinking of something else not associated with the situation. Example: "I wonder what we're having for supper."
  3. Behavioral approach: taking action to change the situation. Example: "Can I write a movie script instead of an essay?"
  4. Behavioral avoidance: taking actions not associated with the situation. Example: passing notes or skipping class.

Research shows that cognitive-approach coping results in the biggest decrease to student boredom while sustaining student effort, enjoyment, and achievement (Nett, Goetz, & Daniels, 2010; Tze, Daniels, Klassen, & Li, 2013). For teachers, however, these four coping categories may have different effects on their teaching, and potentially different levels of disruption. We were curious how teachers would want their students to cope with boredom and if different preferences would emerge based on the amount of teaching experience, gender, or teaching level. To investigate this question, we surveyed 184 full-time teachers (130 female, 54 male) from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. We asked teachers to tell us the extent to which they would encourage students to use strategies associated with the four categories of coping with boredom. Participation was voluntary and anonymous. The sample was about evenly divided between elementary and secondary school teachers, ranging in age from 23 to 67 (M = 39.58), and with between 1 to 41 years of experience (Mdn = 10).

Results and Implications

No statistically significant differences emerged based on years of experience, gender, or level of teaching. Instead, all teachers ranked their preferences for student boredom coping as

  1. Cognitive-approach coping, M = 19.68, SD = 3.40
  2. Behavioral-approach coping, M = 15.51, SD = 4.20
  3. Cognitive-avoidance coping, M = 12.12, SD = 5.05
  4. Behavioral-avoidance coping, M = 8.79, SD = 4.68

At times it may seem that boredom is rampant in schools. As such, students need to learn how to manage this negative emotion, but not all forms of coping with boredom are equal. The results presented here suggest that teachers encourage students to cope with boredom by using cognitive-approach strategies. These strategies tend to result in the largest decrease in boredom for students and are also the least disruptive to teaching (Nett, Goetz, & Daniels, 2010). Interestingly, next teachers advise students to actively try to change the boring situation. Although this type of coping can be effective for maintaining students' interest in a topic, it may result in increased work for teachers because they must adapt their instruction. Overall, the desire to encourage students to use "approach" strategies to deal with boredom suggests that teachers and students can be partners who work together to create and support engaging learning environments.


Daniels, L. M., Stupnisky, R. H., Pekrun, R., Haynes, T. L., Perry, R. P., & Newall, N. E. (2009). A longitudinal analysis of achievement goals: From affective antecedents to emotional effects and achievement outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(4), 948–963. doi:10.1037/a0016096

Nett, U. E., Goetz, T., & Daniels, L. (2010). What to do when feeling bored? Students' strategies for coping with boredom. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(6), 626–638. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.09.004.

Pekrun, R. (2006). The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational research and practice. Educational Psychology Review, 18(4), 315–341. doi:10.1007/s10648-006-9029-9

Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Daniels, L. M., Stupnisky, R. H., & Perry, R. P. (2010). Boredom in achievement settings: Exploring control-value antecedents and performance outcomes of a neglected emotion. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 531–549. doi:10.1037/a0019243

Tze, V. M. C., Daniels, L. M., Klassen, R. M., & Li, J. C. H. (2013, February). Canadian and Chinese university students' approaches to coping with academic boredom. Learning and Individual Differences, 23, 32–43. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2012.10.015

Lia M. Daniels is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Virginia M. C. Tze is a doctoral candidate at the University of Alberta, Canada.


ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 8. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit


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