The cost of classroom interruptions (2023)


I hope you are well.

This week we are going to take a look at classroom interruptions, considering how frequently they happen, the cost to learning, and what we can do about it.

Thanks for reading Eedi Newsletter ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

Part 1: Once upon a time...

Recently, I was watching a Year 9 maths lesson about the equation of straight line graphs. Now, as any maths teacher will tell you, this can be a tricky topic for students, but the teacher was doing a fantastic job explaining the role of the coefficient of x and the constant term, illustrating both with carefully considered examples and diagrams. The students appeared to be listening attentively, and I was looking forward to the checks for understanding that would follow this explanation to see if they had got it.

Then there was a knock on the door.

Mid-sentence, the teacher paused, turned to the door, and beckoned the guest to come in. It was another student who had been sent to ask if Mr Jones (name changed to protect the guilty) could have three new exercise books as he had run out. The teacher went to the back of the room to get them from her cupboard, handed them to the student, and then resumed her explanation. The whole interaction lasted no more than 20 seconds. No significant harm was done, you might think.

But it was what happened next that caught my attention.

First, the teacher had forgotten where she was up to. She looked at the board to remind herself, and made the sensible decision to backtrack a few steps. But as she resumed her explanation, something was different. Her choice of words was not as good, her sentences were rushed, and there was redundancy where there had previously been concision. In short, her explanation lacked the quality it had just twenty seconds ago.

Then there were the students. Previously, they were quiet and focussed. Most had, understandably, used the handing over of the books as an opportunity to take a cognitive break. Some were chatting, some were doodling, and some were looking out of the window. When the teacher resumed her explanation, despite her clear instruction to stop what they were doing, empty their hands and watch her, the high level of focus was gone. The noise level began to creep up, some heads were turned, and some hands were busy.

So, despite the fact that the initial interruption lasted no more than 20 seconds, the effect on learning was much longer.

What is going on here?

Part 2: Interruptions leave a wake

It was Peps McCrea that got me interested in the effect of interruptions. He first wrote about it in an edition of his excellent Evidence Snacks newsletter, and then we discussed it further on my podcast.

You see, the thing about interruptions is that they leave a wake. In other words,the learning time lost to an interruption is not just the amount of time the interruption itself takes up, but the time it takes both the student and the teacher to get back to that state of thinking that they were prior to the interruption. Peps has a lovely infographic to illustrate this:

The cost of classroom interruptions (1)

There is some research to support this. In a 2020 paper entitled The Big Problem With Little Interruptions to Classroom Learning, US researchers Kraft & Monti-Nussbaum studied the frequency, nature, duration, and consequences of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. Here is what they found:

  1. A typical classroom is interrupted more than 2,000 times per year

  2. Interruptions were most likely to occur in the first and last hours of the school day

  3. More than 50% of the interruptions observed resulted in subsequent disruptions that extended lost learning time beyond the interruption itself

  4. About 15% of all classroom interruptions led to disruptions that continued to visibly interfere with instruction and students’ focus for the remainder of the lesson

  5. This is the big one... these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 and 20 days of instructional time per student across a school year!

To get a sense of the full extent of the problem, here is the relationship between the number of interruptions per day and the maths achievement of the students in the study:

The cost of classroom interruptions (2)

Clearly, little to no learning takes place during the duration of the interruption. But why does that effect on learning continue after the interruption has been dealt with?

The analogy of a juggler is helpful here. Think about the students in the straight line graphs lesson. They were wrestling hard with a tricky concept. They were trying to link together their knowledge of equations, substitution, negative numbers, the concepts of a variable and a constant, and how these all tied together to explain the relationship between the equation the teacher had written down and the graph the equation produced. That is a lot of balls to try to keep in the air.

The cost of classroom interruptions (3)

Students can only think about so much at any one time, so as soon as the interruption happens, the balls start to fall to the floor as their limited attention goes elsewhere. Once the interruption is dealt with, it takes time to pick each of those balls back up and get them to the point they were before.

And this doesn't just happen to students. Teaching is an incredibly complex art form. The teacher in the lesson needs all her attention to deliver a high-quality explanation, think hard about her words and her gestures, and adjust things such as pace and the tone of her voice based on the verbal signals she picks up from her students. Once the interruption hits, all that falls to the floor as well.

Part 4: What types of interruptions happen in classrooms?

I am now obsessed with interruptions. During my recent school visits, I have been making notes on the types of interruptions that happen in classrooms. Here are twelve things I have seen recently:

  1. Students arriving late to class, causing the teacher, the students, or both to stop what they are doing

  2. Poor student behaviour, both "low-level" and more visible, interrupting teacher explanations or periods of practice

  3. The weather making its presence known outside a window: wind, rain, snow, sunshine

  4. A winged classroom visitor: a fly, a bug, and worst of all... a wasp!

  5. Students messing about with equipment: mini-whiteboards, compasses, ABCD cards

  6. Students (or other teachers!) asking to borrow equipment

  7. Another teacher (often a well-meaning member of the Senior Leadership Team) popping their head in the door to see if everything is okay, or bringing around a visitor

  8. The teacher going off on tangents during explanations and instructions

  9. Technology issues: interactive whiteboards not working, computers being slow to load up, websites buffering

  10. Teachers interrupting silence with comments like: Good work everyone, keep it up, remember to underline your answers

  11. A teacher talking to a student, causing other students to stop what they are doing to listen

  12. A teacher stopping the class to repeat instructions, either because some students were not listening initially, or the instructions were confusing or poorly delivered

Which of these have you experienced in your classroom?

Part 5: What can we do?

The advice is simple to say, but hard to enact: we need to reduce the frequency of interruptions in our classrooms.

The reason it is hard is that some of the things on the list above are largely out of our control: technology will always let us down, some students will always be late, the four seasons will always make themselves known. But others are not. Teachers can plan their explanations in advance, have clear rules and routines in place around behaviour and equipment, and try hard to keep quiet once students are focussed. Leaders can think carefully about classroom drop-ins, behaviour policies and the protocols in place for getting equipment from another teacher mid-lesson.

We will never eliminate interruptions entirely. But by being aware of their impact - making students aware too - and making carefully considered adjustments, we might be able to reduce the damage they cause.

What do you think?

  1. What types of interruptions do you encounter on a daily basis?

  2. How can you combat these?

Let me know in the comments!

Leave a comment

Three final things from Craig

  1. I am the series editor of a brand-new set of Key Stage 3 maths books called Mossiac, published by OUP. You can sign up to receive some free sample materials here, and watch authors Jemma Sherwood and Charlotte Hawthorne showcase some of the wonderful resources they have created as part of the project here

  2. My calendar is full up for this academic year, and September/October 2023, but I am now taking bookings for November onwards. So, if you are interested in a workshop, departmental support, or coaching, please check out this page

  3. Have you checked out my Tips for Teachers book, with over 400 ideas to try out the very next time you step into a classroom?

If you found this newsletter useful, subscribe (for free!) so you never miss an edition, share it with one of your colleagues, or let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment. And if you have any questions about setting up your students on our Eedi platform, just hit reply!



Leave a comment


Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, and have a great week!


What are classroom interruptions examples? ›

Classroom Disruptions
  • Persistently speaking without being recognized or interrupting other speakers.
  • Behavior that distracts the class from the subject matter or discussion.

What happens to learning in schools with interruptions? ›

These disruptions to lesson momentum often required teachers to spend additional time restating directions, reviewing earlier content, and reenergizing students. Thus, interruptions can negatively affect both the potential time for learning in school and the amount of material teachers can cover.

How do you manage interruptions in the classroom? ›

Six Ways to Deal with Classroom Disruptions
  1. Avoid calling attention to the disruption. ...
  2. Address off-task students privately. ...
  3. Prompt the student to self-correct their behavior. ...
  4. Keep your eyes focused on the rest of the class. ...
  5. Use nonverbal cues. ...
  6. Provide consistent encouragement.

What would you do if a child is constantly interrupting the class? ›

If your child continues to interrupt after a warning, ignoring may be the most effective response. Show them that interrupting won't work. Taking a break in another room is another option if they continue to interrupt repeatedly. Offer plenty of praise when your child refrains from interrupting.

What are the four 4 classes of interruptions? ›

These four types of interruptions are intrusions, distractions, breaks, and ruminations.

What are the three types of interruptions? ›

There are three types of hardware interrupts:
  • Maskable interrupts. In a processor, an internal interrupt mask register selectively enables and disables hardware requests. ...
  • Non-maskable interrupts. In some cases, the interrupt mask cannot be disabled so it does not affect some interrupt signals. ...
  • Spurious interrupts.

What are the causes for interruptions? ›

Interruption occurs when the supply voltage (or load current) decreases to less than 0.1 pu for less than 1 minute, as shown by Fig. 1.6. Some causes of interruption are equipment failures, control malfunction, and blown fuse or breaker opening.

How do you reduce interruptions? ›

How to minimize interruptions at work
  1. Log your interruptions. ...
  2. Use routine meetings to address non-urgent issues. ...
  3. Budget time for interruptions. ...
  4. Use your calendar's “available” and “unavailable” functions. ...
  5. Politely say “no” ...
  6. Keep your team in the loop. ...
  7. Set up your tech to reduce distractions.
Sep 13, 2022

What are some examples of interruptions? ›

Examples of interruptions include a telephone call, a knock at the door, a colleague dropping by unannounced, receiving an unexpected email or text message, or someone barging in unexpectedly during a meeting.

Why do children interrupt so much? ›

Often, kids interrupt because they have a hard time waiting their turn. They have something they really want to share. But they're impulsive and don't stop to think before they cut someone off. Kids who interrupt because they're impulsive typically do other things without thinking first.

How do you control a classroom without shouting? ›

There are other ways to capture your students' attention without yelling.
  1. Set and Maintain High Expectations. ...
  2. Establish Regular Routines. ...
  3. Get Quieter, Not Louder. ...
  4. Reset Technique. ...
  5. Install a Wireless Doorbell. ...
  6. Use Call and Response or Clap Back Technique. ...
  7. Use Classroom Lights. ...
  8. Stand in the Middle of the Room.

Why small classroom interruptions are a big problem? ›

When we looked at the correlation between schools' average achievement levels and the frequency of interruptions, we found a consistent negative relationship, such that schools with higher rates of interruptions had lower rates of achievement.

What are the consequences of interruption? ›

Frequent interruptions can also lead to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments, and a doubling of error rates. Think of the impact you will have the next time you are tempted to interrupt a colleague, who is busily working away, with a quick comment.

Why do students interrupt class? ›

Interruptions often stem from poor impulse control or an urge to demonstrate intelligence, so placing an easy-to-see reminder can help students remember to control themselves.

What are the 4 D's for managing interruptions? ›

The 4 Ds are: Do, Defer (Delay), Delegate, and Delete (Drop). Placing a task or project into one of these categories helps you manage your limited time more effectively and stay focused on what matters most to you.

What are the two types of interrupts? ›

Interrupts have two types: Hardware interrupt and Software interrupt.

Why is it important to control interruptions? ›

Left unchecked, they can affect focus and cause deadlines to slip. This can make us feel fatigued, frustrated, and guilty because we struggle to manage ourselves or others. These feelings become interruptions in themselves, overwhelming us even more.

How much time do interruptions cost? ›

On average, knowledge workers spend a day and a half in meetings every week. Each interruption makes a task take 15%-24% longer to complete. Even if that's on the low end (just 15%), this would result in three full working days lost to interruptions per month.

How do interruptions affect productivity? ›

According to UC Berkeley, a brief interruption is all it takes to lose focus, and a simple interaction can take as few as 8 minutes and as many as 25 minutes to recover from. This means that every time we face a distraction, we run the risk of losing anywhere from 8-25 minutes of productive work time.

What is the most common cause of long interruptions? ›

Long interruptions: -Long interruption is defined as the total electrical supply interruption lasting more than 1 to 2 seconds as shown in Figure 4. It is caused by human error, equipment failure, overheating, and other factors.

What is the root of interruption? ›

Etymology. Borrowed from Latin interruptus, from interrumpere (“to break apart, break to pieces, break off, interrupt”), from inter (“between”) + rumpere (“to break”).

What is interruption strategy? ›

A strategy used to interrupt a behavior chain at a certain step so that another behavior can be performed. We see this used frequently during mand training.

What is the problem with distractions and interruptions? ›

Frequent interruptions lead to lower productivity, more errors and erode willpower. They can also cause irritation and anxiety.

What is the meaning of interruptions? ›

: an act of interrupting something or someone or the state of being interrupted: such as. : a stoppage or hindering of an activity for a time. Our conversation continued without interruption for over an hour. : a break in the continuity of something.

What is the difference between distraction and interruption? ›

(2010), interruptions are defined as interfering stimuli that require attention, such as a secondary task (e.g., phone calls), whereas distractions describe interfering irrelevant stimuli that capture attention but have to be ignored (e.g., background noise).

What is a good sentence for interrupt? ›

Example Sentences

Verb It's not polite to interrupt. His dinner was interrupted by a phone call. We interrupt this program to bring you a special announcement.

What is one sentence about interrupting? ›

interrupt verb (STOP SPEAKING)

I wish you'd stop interrupting. Please feel free to interrupt me if you don't understand anything. Please go on with what you're doing and don't let us interrupt you. The senator thoroughly squelched the journalist who tried to interrupt him during his speech.

What are the 3 C's in classroom management? ›

As you consider some of your most challenging students or classes, think about your approach to classroom management through the lens of these three areas: connection, consistency, and compassion.

What are the 3 C's for effective classroom management? ›

Make sure your classroom culture is one they will want to remember. By using the three Cs of compliments, competition, and celebration, you'll be one step closer to creating an atmosphere your students will treasure.

What are the 5 P's of classroom management? ›

Try the 5 Ps: positive, polite, prepared, productive, and prompt.

Why is interrupting harmful? ›

Interrupting tells the person speaking that you don't care what they have to say. You think that your voice is more important, or don't have time to really listen to them. It can even make it seem that you weren't really listening properly at all and were just waiting for your moment to interject.

At what age should kids stop interrupting? ›

What to expect: Past the age of seven, children should have enough self-control to curb the impulse to interrupt. Strategies to try: Rather than constantly reminding them not to interrupt, use a hand signal (“Talk to the hand”) or simply ignore them, says Carson.

How do you say don't interrupt in a positive way? ›

Stand up for yourself.

If you are constantly being interrupted, try saying, “Let me just finish my point.” or use the Preview Technique, so people know even if you pause after point 1, that point 2 is coming.

How do you discipline an unruly classroom? ›

10 Ways to Control an Unruly Class
  1. Be the boss. Think of yourself as the commander in chief! ...
  2. Redirect Attention. ...
  3. Let the children call the shots... ...
  4. Give Incentives to Do Their Best. ...
  5. Keep an Eye Out. ...
  6. Establish Consequences for Misbehaving.
Sep 20, 2019

What are annoying classroom behaviors? ›

Some of these immature, irritating, or thoughtless behaviors or “classroom incivilities” include:
  • lateness or leaving early.
  • inappropriate cellphone and laptop usage in class.
  • side conversations.
  • disregard for deadlines.
  • grade grubbing.
  • sniping remarks.
  • cheating.

What is an example of interruption? ›

The game continued after a short interruption because of rain. interruption to something The birth of her son was a minor interruption to her career. interruption in something There's been an interruption in the power supply. without interruption I managed to work for two hours without interruption.

What are examples of interrupting actions? ›

The interrupting action often comes with when. For example: We were playing basketball when the phone rang. The sun wasn't shining when I woke up this morning. The past progressive is only used when the action was in the middle of happening.

What are the different types of interruptions? ›

These four types of interruptions are intrusions, distractions, breaks, and ruminations.

What are the two types of interruption? ›

Interrupts have two types: Hardware interrupt and Software interrupt. The hardware interrupt occurrs by the interrupt request signal from peripheral circuits. On the other hand, the software interrupt occurrs by executing a dedicated instruction.

What are sources of interruptions? ›

There are many sources for interrupts varying from simply asserting an external pin to error conditions within the processor that require immediate attention.
  • Internal interrupts. ...
  • External interrupts. ...
  • Exceptions. ...
  • Software interrupts. ...
  • Non-maskable interrupts.
Jan 2, 2017

What is a real world example of an interrupt? ›

For example, when we press a key on the keyboard or move the mouse, they trigger hardware interrupts which cause the processor to read the keystroke or mouse position.

What is an example of interrupting communication? ›

Asking a Quick Question

No matter what the situation, these short phrases allow for brief questions during a conversation. I'm sorry for interrupting but I don't quite understand... Sorry for the interruption but could you repeat... This will only take a minute.

What is the explanation of interruptions? ›

an occasion when someone or something stops something from happening for a short period: constant/frequent interruptions He found he worked better at home without the constant interruptions of his staff.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Laurine Ryan

Last Updated: 08/23/2023

Views: 6004

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Laurine Ryan

Birthday: 1994-12-23

Address: Suite 751 871 Lissette Throughway, West Kittie, NH 41603

Phone: +2366831109631

Job: Sales Producer

Hobby: Creative writing, Motor sports, Do it yourself, Skateboarding, Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Stand-up comedy

Introduction: My name is Laurine Ryan, I am a adorable, fair, graceful, spotless, gorgeous, homely, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.