How to Recognize and Counteract Student Inattentiveness in the Classroom

By Simplicio, Joseph S. C. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2001 | Go to article overview

How to Recognize and Counteract Student Inattentiveness in the Classroom


Simplicio, Joseph S. C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


When school days become tediously repetitious students drift of into a world of daydreams. These momentary lapses or "drift times" give students the opportunity to explore their feelings, their personal thoughts, and the everyday experiences that make up their lives. Unfortunately though these periods of "drift time" result in lost of much needed teaching time. Good educators know that continuing a lesson when students are neither attentive nor responsive is a sure fire formula for failure, however, most teachers are also under constant pressure to complete curriculum requirements. This means they face major time constraints. It is therefore imperative that teachers formulate a plan to effectively deal with this lost time. This plan though must do more than simply provide a temporary fix to the problem. Therein lies the dilemma. How can teachers successfully actualize the major objectives and goals of the curriculum while minimizing lost classroom time? This article explores the concept of "drift time" and provides teaching strategies and methodologies for combating its deleterious effects. It discusses how teachers can modify their teaching styles and methodologies in order to maximize their classroom teaching time.

Every teacher has seen that look in their students' eyes. It is that far away frozen gaze that comes over students when they are no longer paying attention to what the teacher is saying. The warning signs are quite visible. There is only minimal interaction between the teacher and students. Classrooms become sluggish. The air seems heavy and stifling. Time appears to drag on endlessly. Lessons sound like teacher monologues. School days are long and often tediously repetitious. The routine and the mundane are often constant classroom companions for students. It is no wonder that during the course of the day that students' minds "drift" off into a world of daydreaming. Very often these momentary lapses, or "drift times," allow students to escape into a more exciting world filled with excitement and happiness. Here undisturbed, students can explore their feelings, their personal thoughts, and the everyday experiences that make up their lives. Here they are able to relive past joys or dream of future glory. In many ways these drift periods work as coping mechanisms to combat classroom boredom. They serve as mini rejuvenating respites. Since teachers must accept the fact that these drift periods will inevitability occur, it is crucial for the everyday educator to formulate a plan to effectively deal with this lost time. Many teachers do not do so. Typically when faced with this dilemma most teachers attempt to counteract this situation by trying to "snap the students out of it" and "bring them back to reality." This is usually accomplished either by calling out the inattentive students' names or by directing questions at the students. This second strategy very often places students in the unenviable position of not only realizing that they have been caught daydreaming, but in addition placing them in the position of having to face the reality that they are also unable to correctly answer questions because of their lack of focus. It is a lose/lose situation for the students. Although forcing the students to refocus their attention on the lesson may be a momentary victory for the teacher, this is often just a temporary fix. In the end, students in most cases return to their dream worlds once attention is no longer centered on them. Sadly, even though this is true in most classrooms, regardless of the level of the students' participation, the teacher then continues the lesson as if everyone is listening. This is a major error on the part of the teacher. Students who are lost or unaware of what is occurring during the lesson have a tendency and inclination to remain so. Continuing a lesson when students are neither attentive nor responsive is a sure fire formula for failure. In the long run it means that teachers will be forced to once again re-teach the very lessons they had assumed they had completed. …

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