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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Long lessons, lots of distracted kids

The average K-4 student is distracted more than a quarter of the time, according to a 2016 paper, Off-task behavior in elementary school children, reports Hechinger’s Jill Barshay.

Students’ attention was most likely to drift during whole-class instruction and when an activity went longer than 10 minutes, writes Barshay.

A quarter of instructional activities lasted longer than 17 minutes — longer than the average adult attention span of 15 minutes — said co-author Karrie Goodwin, a Kent State professor.  She suggested “divvying up instructional activities into smaller chunks.”

Classroom posters and objects drew students’ attention away from lessons, the study found. In a 2014 study, Godwin found that heavily decorated classrooms hinder learning for kindergarteners, writes Barshay.

Distractions reduce learning time and achievement, but may have an upside, writes Barshay.

. . . some psychologists have theorized that children can productively give themselves a sort of “time out” to calm themselves, and then re-engage in the lesson with renewed concentration. Experts call it emotional self-regulation. Others theorize that seemingly irrelevant conversations between peers are helping to build social bonds that allow group projects to flourish. And some theories link off-task behavior to creativity.

I didn’t pay much attention in elementary school, because I didn’t need to. Between reading under my desk and daydreaming, I was zoned out most of the time.

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