Breaks during classes critical for student attention

Editorial Board

The student’s eyelids begin to flicker shut and her elbow slips as she is magnetically pulled into her desk’s center of gravity. Suddenly, the classroom door clicks shut and the student catches herself and sits at attention, but not for long. She soon slips into the same drowsy routine that hits at the 45 minute mark of every block.

Many students may find themselves in similar situations, unable to focus their attention for the entirety of a block where most of the class is spent in lecture. The Oracle Editorial Board suggests the implementation of five minute breaks in classes to help students refocus on their work.

The Editorial Board believes this should only be implemented in classes that are mostly sedentary. Classes that include hands-on activities such as group work, discussions, or labs should not have to implement this break time. In addition, classes that need the full 90 minute block for any type of exam should not have a mandated break on that day.

According to a non-scientific, Oracle- conducted survey, 85 percent of students believe a break in their classes would be beneficial and helpful for the classroom environment.

Senior Elizabeth Hinov does not receive a break, and believes her attention span duringclass dwindles, and belives a break would allow students to refocus.

“I’ve definitely only had a few significant classes that provided us with break time throughout my years at GBS and those were my most enjoyable classes,” Hinov said. “There is one class I can remember very well. During my junior year English class there would always be a point in the middle of class where we transitioned from one activity to the next and took a short break to do anything we wanted. I have had frustrations with the opposite experience. The classes that only let a student exit the room or take any break by giving up ‘extra credit’ points that they could potentially earn. That’s completely wrong in my opinion.  The best experience regarding a break situation in a classroom, I’d say, would be to let the student choose an appropriate time to get up and quietly exit the room.”

Anthony Pellegrini, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, is a proponent of giving students frequent breaks throughout the school day. Pellegrini’s experiments in U.S. public schools demonstrated that students were more attentive after a break than before a break. This sentiment is reflected by English Teacher Yitzchak Hillel Crandus, who sees increased attentiveness in his students after a break.

“In general, I get the impression that they are back in five minutes and they are ready to go again,” Crandus said. “I also feel like we can change directions now without awkwardness, whereas if I changed directions while we’re all still sitting, it feels a little bit awkward. The break gives me a chance to reframe what we’re doing.”

There are some students who abuse this freedom, according to Crandus. However, the majority appreciate breaks and the pros certainly outweigh the cons, he says.

In addition, a 2012 study by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, surveyed the brain with an fMRI scanner while the brain was in default mode, the stage of rest after the brain has processed information. Immordino-Yang’s study found that the brain is still highly active and works to consolidate and process the newly learned information.

If allowed, giving students this break time lets them go to the bathroom or get water all at once. Students will leave the class less frequently; in the past, this might have created distractions. Junior Sophie Pritikin believes that breaks would allow for students to recharge and refocus.

“After a while, if you’re working really hard, your brain just gets tired at a certain point. Your brain just can’t hold that much imformation at one time,” Pritikin said. “So you need that break to just refresh.”

The Editorial Board does understand that the implementation of these breaks runs the risk of causing a large influx of students in the hallway at around the same time. However, not all classes are sedentary and require breaks. If there does happen to be multiple classes in the hallway, it would be reasonable for teachers to schedule different times for students to take breaks. In this case, breaks can also be taken i the classroom.

Some teachers might also believe that there is little room in their schedule to implement breaks and important materials run the risk of being left out of the class period. However, the Editorial Board believes that, with proper planning and clear rules, this shouldn’t stop teachers from instituting breaks.

The Editorial Board hopes that teachers reflect on their own class styles and student behaviors to see if a break would benefit their students. Teachers who are still unsure should seek out the feedback from teachers in the same department who already have given their students breaks. Doing this would create a more relaxed class.

Breaks require adjustment from teachers and a break from their traditions. With effort, the outcome of breaks has the potential to achieve a richer class environment where students are more engaged and work quality is bettered, along with the overall focus and well-being of students.