Interruptions leave a wake

The hidden costs of classroom disruptions

Hey 👋

Welcome to the first post-equinox Thursday of 2023. Today’s big idea doubles down on the concept of eliminating distractions. Let’s get to it…

Big idea 🍉

Learning time lost to interruptions can amount to 10-20 days per school year. Why so much? Because interruptions leave a wake. Here's the lowdown:

Our working memory has limits—we can only attend to so much at a time. The classroom is an information rich environment and teachers love to be helpful. Unless we’re careful, these situational factors can all-to-easily lead to our students getting distracted from their learning.

Eliminating potential distractions is an important part of teaching. However, it is arguably even more important than we might initially assume.

When an interruption occurs in the classroom—such as a student coming in late or a teacher narrating over a practice task—several things can happen:

  1. Prompted by the interruption, our students ‘drop the balls’ (juggling analogy) of their current thinking.

  2. They may start attending to something else, which may lead to further tangential avenues of thought.

  3. And when they eventually turn their attention back to their learning, it can take time for them to ‘get all the balls back up in the air again’.

The learning time lost to an interruption is not just the amount of time the interruption itself takes up. It’s also the time that gets lost to other thoughts and the time it takes students to get back up to speed with their original thinking.

In short, interruptions leave a wake.

“Fear is not the mind-killer, context switching is the mind-killer.”

— Elon Musk

How much of a wake do interruptions leave? One study (Kraft & Monti-Nussbaum, 2020) found that a typical classroom in the US is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that the learning time lost in the wake of these disruptions adds up to between 10-20 days per year 🤯

This situation is compounded by the finding that some leaders are prone to underestimating the frequency and impact of interruptions, and so don't always take proportionate steps to support and encourage staff in their reduction.

And so, not only do we need to double down on eliminating potential distractions before they arise, but we also need to help others become aware of their cost and enlist their support.

🎓 For more on the hidden costs of distractions, see The Big Problem With Little Interruptions to Classroom Learning, by Kraft & Monti-Nussbaum.

How militant are you about stemming interruptions in your classroom (and the classrooms of others)? How quickly do your students get back to thinking?


• The learning time lost to an interruption is more than just the amount of time that the interruption itself takes up.

• This can add up to a significant amount of lost learning time per year.

• The situation is compounded by some leaders who underestimate the frequency and impact of interruptions.

Little updates 🥕

Now go do some important stuff. And don’t let yourself get distracted…

Peps 👊