Exploring the antecedents of boredom: Do teachers know why students are bored?

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
Apr. 20, 2014

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 39, April 2014, p. 22-30
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The main objective of the present study was to explore if students and teachers perceive the same antecedents of students’ boredom.
The authors asked students to report the reasons for their boredom and compared the teachers’ perceptions to the students’ answers.

This study was conducted in German secondary schools.
First, an open-ended questionnaire was administered to 111 9th-grade students to explore their self-reported causes of boredom.
Next, semi-structured interviews with 117 9th-grade teachers were used to examine the factors that teachers think make their students bored.
Finally, quantitative questions gauged teachers’ agreement with students’ responses.


The results show that students were able to describe the antecedents of their boredom profoundly and in detail.
The categories deriving from their answers reflect the theoretically assumed antecedents.
The large majority of students attributed their boredom to characteristics of instruction.
For example, students repeatedly noted undiversified instructional strategies, long monologues by the teacher, too many writing tasks, and a lack of quality in the teacher’s lecturing as leading to their boredom.
Concerning the teacher’s personality, some students named teachers’ age and symptoms of burnout, which could be because they perceive the teachers themselves as boring.
Teachers identified most of the antecedents of boredom named by students, either by naming explicitly the same category or by mentioning similar aspects but going into more detail.
For example, teachers identified lack of attention to provoke boredom in students; specifically, teachers named private causes and institutional reasons for students’ lack of attention.
These antecedents of boredom were also mentioned by students, but assigned to the categories student’s personality and institutional causes.

Furthermore, teachers and students both named the subject and content/topic of a class to be important antecedents of boredom.
Students complained about “dry” topics and useless class contents, and teachers explained that some topics just might not be attractive to particular age groups.
Both answers reflected that a lack of meaningfulness can lead to boredom.
Characteristics of instruction was the antecedent of boredom most commonly named by students, which was also identified by teachers in terms of style of instruction.
In sum, teachers were found to have a realistic perception of what makes students feel bored: Most of the antecedents named by students were also mentioned by teachers with only the exception of the student category teacher’s personality.

At several points the teachers’ perspectives on the antecedents of boredom differed from the students’ descriptions.
Most remarkable is the fact that teachers did not mention themselves as the origins of boredom unless they were explicitly asked about it in the quantitative questionnaire.
This qualifies the discrepancy between students’ and teachers’ perspectives, because teachers are aware of their role in producing boredom but do not mention it, which could be due to self-enhancement bias.
Further differences between students’ and teachers’ categories included that teachers differentiated more precisely between some aspects that were stated quite generally by students.
For example, teachers frequently named students being over and under challenged as separate antecedents of boredom.
Teachers explained how important it is to adapt the level of tasks to the achievement of their students because an adequate level of stimulation and arousal prevents students from being bored.

Finally, the comparisons of the open questions, as well as teachers’ accordance with students’ categories, revealed a rather high congruency between teachers’ and students’ perception of antecedents of boredom.
This leads to the conclusion that teachers seem to know most of the antecedents of students’ boredom in class, they are even capable of explaining some of them in much more detail than the students themselves.
It seems as if it is difficult for teachers to avoid boredom, even though they are aware of the antecedents.


The authors argue that the mere assessment of perceived antecedents of boredom is important for optimizing classroom instruction.
The results of this study show how much antecedents of students’ boredom can be identified by teachers.
Hence, teachers should use their knowledge about the most prevalent antecedents, such as characteristics of instruction, and avoid boredom by instructing more adapted to students’ needs and competences in order to avoid over or under challenging students.
Teacher education should be improved in terms of practising more individualization and adaption methods.
This would not only prevent students from being bored, but also enhance instructional quality overall.
Finally, the results show that teachers do have a realistic judgment regarding the antecedents of students’ boredom.
This should encourage them to follow their instinct and act accordingly in order to prevent their students from becoming bored.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2019
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