The Attention-Span of Student Learning

The Attention Span of Student Learning

Going into academic years 2020 /2021 or any other academic instructional years, for that matter, how are you planning to command your students’ attention? What plans do you have to keep your students on task, and more importantly, how do you plan to motivate your students to complete their assignments and to actually turn-in their assignments? These questions are important because according to common research “students’ attention span is a very important factor in the learning process, and the amount of time students spend listening and understanding lessons affects how much they have taken from the lesson.” Additionally, Hyperactivity among teenagers, which can be concerning, is one of the biggest enemies to an otherwise effective instructional delivery. Students’ attention-span can be limited, and you as teacher must work within the time limit students allow you to teach.

Luckily, most classrooms are setup with a greater percentage of students who have a good understanding of receiving a quality education and present no problem to instruction. Motivated students is part reason that many teachers remain in the game of teaching, for without motivated students, teaching may become too challenging for some teachers.

Some students have minimal realization of schools’ importance and attend school only because attending school is a legal requirement. Disinterested students can be unmotivated about learning, and many would prefer misbehaving, especially if “like- peers” are in the same space as they are. “Misery loves company,” is the case here.

For whatever reason, teachers should expect that some students love to create havoc with their peers joining in: it’s fun. It’s power. Yet, fun and power should not be theirs wholly. Students’ primary responsibility should be to participate respectfully in class to learn.

Some teachers are not equipped to handle potentially defiant students’ attention. Research abounds with stories of students that blatantly ignore instruction. In worse cases, few brave, uncaring students have walked out the classroom in lieu of instructional learning.

The number of disinterested students who cannot sit still for long periods of time will challenge you as a teacher, and their disruption will keep you in “awe” of their temerity; yet, their disturbance is inevitable because of their personal boredom and short attention span, and you must have a plan to counter this action. After all, potential attitudinal students are students, after all, not adults. You are the adult. They can be taught how to behave and learn appropriately.

Therefore, your challenge as a teacher is to generate a motivational teaching plans to allow you to captivate your students’ attention before and during and after instruction.

A well-known teaching strategy is the 20-minute rule: This ideal practice is nothing new. Some teachers may have drifted from its practice; nevertheless, revisiting the practice will help students maintain their attention longer to learn. Lessons are better received by students if they spend the maximum amount of time within their allowed innate ability to maintain interest.

If instruction elapses into longer than 20 minutes, you as teacher must be prepared to handle disruptive events that “tired of working” students most certainly will bring forward. Adhering to the 20-minute rule will help build the attention span of students. According to common research, a teacher’s understanding of students’ 10-20-minute attention span helps the teacher to construct assignments accordingly to keep students motivated to complete their assignments.

While research does not validate the 20-minute rule as a most trust-worthy teaching strategy, since empirical evidence is lacking to support the assertion, common sense indeed does: Few people appreciate sitting in one place enduring a particular thing unless that “thing” is what they enjoy doing. Even you as a teacher understand “attention span” when you sit through a meeting that lasts longer than expected. Usually, regardless of the reason for the meeting, you begin to tune out after a while.

Thus, during school time, students are expected to complete lessons they would rather not complete. Knowing that the assignment should be completed within 20 minutes thereabout, students will try their best to push forward. Even so, teachers must constantly motivate students to perform.

What ideas will you use to keep your students motivated? You as teacher must answer these questions for yourself and for the caliber of students assigned to you; nevertheless, the 20-minute rule is a good rule of thumb to follows: Moreover, when you consider the percentage of attention span of teenagers presented by Statistic Brain Research Institute, you discover that twenty-five percent of teens forget major details even of their relatives and close friends; seven percent of them forget their own birthdays from time to time, and per technology, only four percent of page views on the Web lasts more than 10 minutes, and only twenty-eight percent of words are read by users. Thus people, especially teenagers, indeed show a favor for low attention span. Moreover, research warns that students’ natural attention levels vary according to their motivation, their moods, and their perceived relevance of the material.

This research is important because by applying motivation, by considering student moods, and by adding relevance, teachers are presented with a handle to hold while they construct their 20-minute lessons through these lenses: Teachers may generate assignments to motivate learning; they may integrate learning objectives based on students’ moods. Even teachers should plan lessons according to their own moods, for they also feel burned out sometimes and need levity to recharge. Teachers may generate lessons based on students’ life goals or personal interests, and they must implement these individual ideas within 20 minutes.

Thus, how will you plan instruction?

How will you capture and maintain attention?


Consider the learning tips below:

(1) If block schedule, generate FOUR 20-minute lessons: yet, use 10 minutes to introduce learning objectives via narrative and motivational styles, and use the other 10 minutes to show examples of the lesson.

If period schedule, generate THREE 20- minute lessons: yet, use 10 minutes to introduce learning objectives via narrative and motivational styles, and use the other 10 minutes to show examples of the lesson.

(2) For 20-minutes, allow students to practice the lesson.

(3) For period schedule, use 20-minutes to allow students to “show and tell” or to prepare for an “questions and answers” session or to watch an animated video (3-5 minutes only) on the lesson at hand to enforce instruction before closing for the school day.

(4) For block schedule, use remainder of class time to show an animated video (3 to 5 minutes only) on the lesson at hand to enforce instruction before closing the school day.

(5) Use remainder class time to review lessons taught for the day, and alert students of learning sessions for the next day.

Never underestimate the learning attention-span of students; it’s highly likely their interest for learning will decrease dramatically after 20-minutes. 

Cynthia Mathews (2020)

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Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.