New Study Finds Student Off Task Nearly a Third of Class Time

May 12, 2014

A new study finds that students only spend two-thirds of their class time working on task and are most likely to be off task during individual work or while receiving whole-group instruction at their desks than other classroom activities.

Although previous research documented the loss of instructional time, this study is the first to examine the link between the instructional format and students’ attention spans. Researchers from Columbia University and Carnegie-Mellon University observed 22 classrooms representing kindergarten to fourth grade and recorded student behavior based on eye gaze.

Why do some formats work better than others?

The researchers offered three theories to explain the findings:

  • Ease of classroom management. It may just be easier for teachers to minimize disruptions while facilitating small-group work.
  • Higher levels of student motivation. More socially oriented tasks, frequently used in small-group work, may be a more effective motivator for students.
  • Small blocks of instruction. Children may be better at focusing on shorter instructional periods, as opposed to longer periods associated with whole-group instruction.

One of the authors of the study, Dr. Ryan Baker, has also studied Reasoning Mind. His findings indicated that Reasoning Mind students work on task an astonishing 89 percent of class time. Read the paper and find out why Reasoning Mind is so engaging on our Student Engagement page.

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  • Ocumpaugh, J., Baker, R.S.J.d., Gaudino, S., Labrum, M.J., Dezendorf, T. (2013) Field Observations of Engagement in Reasoning Mind. Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, 624-627
  • Godwin, K.E., Almeda, M. V., Petroccia, M., Baker, R.S., & Fisher, A.V. (2013). Classroom activities and off-task behavior in elementary school children. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, and I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2428-2433
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