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Friday / March 23

Identifying the Hibernating Student

Part 1 of 8 part series

In their work, Student Voice: The Instrument of Change (Corwin Press, 2014), Dr.’s Russ Quaglia and Michael Corso use their aspirations framework™ to describe four types of students: Hibernating, Perspiring, Imagining, and Aspiring. This series will help schools first identify who these students are and then how to support them in moving to or staying in the state of aspiration.

Student Voice

Slumbering students often avoid our attention or avoid having to put forth significant effort in thinking and learning.

Hibernating Students: Who are they?

Students who have neither dreams or goals, nor are putting forth effort in the present are described as hibernating. So just what does a hibernating student look like? Do you have any students overwintering in your class right now? Most teachers have to think for a moment when asked because very often these students will do as much or as little as needed to draw attention to themselves. Sometimes they are easy to spot–students who are sleeping or have their heads down on the desk. Others may be rapidly and idly sending as many text messages as they can during the course of a school day.


Work Avoiders


Slumbering students often avoid our attention or avoid having to put forth significant effort in thinking and learning. These students are simply playing school. They have figured out the system to be able to do the least amount of meaningful work. They will find their way into groups of others students where they are challenged the least. They may even select tasks that seem to be harder or more tedious, but don’t require any deep levels of brain effort. One teacher I recently spoke with described a student who always volunteers to write up the notes for everyone in the group. He will use the class computer to diligently make a nice neat summary of everyone’s key points. While this takes him a great deal of time and his classmates appreciate it, the teacher finally noticed this same student rarely excels if any deep level of thought processing is needed—he avoids that like the plague. Can you think of any students that will strive for tedious menial labor vs. active thinking tasks?

Boredom—The Main Symptom


Hibernating students are far from just being the under-performing. They can sometimes be our best and brightest potential stars hidden underneath a cloud cover of boredom. Kanevsky & Keighley, 2003, found that students recognized as “gifted” in elementary and underperforming in high school, cited boredom as a primary reason.

Indiana University Researcher, Ethan Yazzie-Mintz’, in surveying over 50,000 high students with his High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE), found that a main reason students feel boredom in high school is that the material is not interesting or relevant. He found that over 2/3 of high school students stated they are bored every day in high school and approximately 1/6 are blasé in every class they take (p. 6, 2009).
Student Aspirations Quadrants
We can learn a lesson from Ferris Bueller’s classroom and the student drooling asleep on his desk during Ben Stein’s lecture on Voo-doo economics. He is awoken by the screeching of chalk on the board. That screeching can become a metaphor for teachers and schools. The sound that he hears was enough to have him open his eyes and realize the drool on his check and his desk. First we have to ask—Why was he sleeping in the first place? Anyone? Anyone? Because he was bored!

Kanevsky, L., & Keighley, T. (2003). To produce or not to produce: Understanding boredom and the honor of underachievement. Roeper Review, 26, 20-28.

Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2010). Engaging the voices of students: A report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.

Written by

Dave Nagel is an international educational consultant and researcher. His educational career started as a middle school science and high school biology teacher. His administrative experiences involved being a middle school assistant principal, high school associate principal, and director of extended day and credit recovery programs. In his former district, Dave was instrumental in implementing power standards and performance assessments. He was honored numerous times as a “Senior Choice” winner, with graduating seniors selecting him as someone who dramatically affected their life in a positive way.

Dave has been a national and international presenter and consultant to schools for over 10 years. Using his experience and expertise, he has presented and helped schools, from pre-K through Grade 12, implement effective practices leading to gains in student achievement. His main focus when working with schools has revolved around assessment, instruction, leadership, and effective collaboration. He has worked specifically with schools in implementing the following topics: prioritizing standards, common formative assessments, building authentic performance tasks, effective use of scoring guides, data teams, rigorous curriculum design, and effective grading practices.

Dave is the author of Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers.


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