Time well spent

Seven hours. 420 minutes. The length of an average school day at Hinsdale Central. Now, let’s say that the average student has 7 passing periods, and the student spends only around 2 of the 5 minutes socializing with their peers or relaxing in their classroom, added to a 25-minute lunch break which brings us to a cumulative 39 minutes of break during the entire school day. That means that around 91% of a student’s day is allocated to learning. But how much time is actually being spent?

A study published at the University of Connecticut found “students spend about a quarter of class time distracted and unable to focus” (Godwin). The study found that teaching was more effective in smaller, more frequent, 20-minute lessons as opposed to a longer, 40-minute lesson without any breaks. This compared to 50 minute class periods usually involving sedentary work which lends itself to loss of concentration. Simply having 5-minute breaks for every 20 minutes of learning can benefit students and teachers by allowing time to redirect focus and optimize instruction time.  Seems easy, right? So why aren’t all our teachers doing it?

One common concern for teachers regarding classroom breaks is the time constraint on their lesson plans; however, implementing breaks into the class period will actually optimize student learning by allowing students to refocus, reflect, and possibly catch up, in order to better absorb the rest of the lesson. A survey taken of Hinsdale Central students found that 30% of the class period is used to redirect students and get them to focus. That’s 15 minutes out of 50 that is being used inefficiently by teachers and students. By incorporating two 5-minute breaks for every 20 minutes, teachers can save time dedicated towards instruction and students are more prepared to absorb the information during class time. In other words, breaks can be used to turn unproductive class time productive. 

Some teachers are also concerned about allowing distractions and spending time re-grouping after set breaks. However, The University College in London expresses that a break in class for just a few minutes, anything from a small stretch, to socializing with friends or to simply getting up and walking around, can have long-lasting effects on a student and help with memory retention and lower stress levels. “It’s like sometimes you doze off in class,” one student writes, “a break allows me to kind of snap back into reality and helps me focus more and actively listen to what is being taught”. 

Both teachers and students want to optimize class time. The introduction of scheduled breaks in lesson plans allows for students to absorb the content better and for teachers to maximize their lesson plans. So I implore teachers to do this for their students. A break could range from a yoga pose to a quick game of rock-paper-scissors. Just taking that pause helps both students and teachers to re-energize and get through the day. And that’s all we can hope for.