How Long Can We Really Pay Attention In Class?
Picture this: You just had your lunch and are now sitting in class. The classroom makes you feel like you’re being baked in an oven, despite it being the middle of January. Your teacher is going over extremely important material for an upcoming test, but you aren’t listening to a single thing. Before you know it, you’re dozing off.
We’ve all been there. So let’s face it, we all get distracted in class sometimes. But is this really our fault, or is it just simply impossible for us to stay engaged for a full class period?
Attention spans will vary depending on the individual, but there is a general timespan when a student is at their optimal focus. For 11 to 12 year olds, this time frame is from 25 to 30 minutes. For 13 to 15 year olds, the number increases to 30 to 40 minutes. Finally, 16 year olds and up are expected to be able to concentrate for at least 32 to 50 minutes.
With our current bell schedule, there is a substantial amount of excess time for most age groups. This can either make or break students; on one hand, you get more class time to take in information and work on classwork. On the other hand, you could lose focus and not be productive at all.
However, it is important to note that the duration of the majority of class periods are not all spent on note taking. Instead, they are distributed among group work, discussions, classwork, and more. A survey sent out by Mr. Hosier asking students for their thoughts on the new bell schedule asked 496 students what their preferred class period length was. On a scale of one (strongly prefer 40 minutes) to four (strongly prefer 55 minutes), 55 of these students chose four, 181 participants chose three, 149 students picked two, and 111 participants selected one.
Some students stated that a reason for this outcome may stem from the ability to have more time for classwork and tests in 55 minutes. Another student commented that “I like having 55 minutes for each class, but in terms of the whole day, it definitely feels longer and exhausting.” One freshman said that “Some days, it’s good to have 55 minute class periods, and some days feel bad to have them because it's harder to stay concentrated.” On the contrary, another student noted that they prefer 40 minute blocks so that they can have every class everyday.
Based on the responses from the survey, it seems to be that most students are content with 55 minute periods. But what about double science periods? Does doubling the time spent in a single class change this sentiment, or does having the other period designated for labs and hands-on activities offset the lack of a change of scenery?
One student said that “I would definitely enjoy having 30 minute periods more, but I love double Bios because the lab period makes science more interesting.” However, another student stated that “I don’t like double periods because the two periods in a row make science too long of a subject to do in one sitting.” Ms. Kim, a science teacher who teaches both earth and living environment double science periods, says that “Student attention span depends on the class structure. If we’re taking notes for 55 minutes, people tend to lose focus halfway through. But most days, when we’re taking notes, doing worksheets and hands-on activities, students have better focus. So as long as we’re not just doing one activity, most students are able to be attentive during double science periods.”
The 11-minute increase could either help or hinder our productivity in class. In the end, there is no obvious conclusion. We all have different learning preferences. So while our current block schedule doesn’t exactly agree with what science says about our attention spans, much of Edgemont appears to be making the most of the change.