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Inside the Classroom

Attention and Focus in the Classroom: What Can We Learn from Fidget Spinners?

“They’re disruptive and annoying.”

“I would never let my child have one.”

“If I see one in the classroom, I consider it a donation.”

Teachers certainly have a lot to say about the newest craze sweeping through classrooms across the country. Fidget spinners, handheld devices that use weighted ball bearings to spin, have quickly morphed from a learning tool designed for children with ADHD or autism into a toy plaguing teachers. Articles and anecdotal research have shown that, for the general population, these gadgets prove more distraction than asset. However, their prevalence in schools can lead us to think about bigger issues on attention and focus in the classroom.

Focus in the classroom

Studies show that when reading, our minds typically wander anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time, and it could be much higher in children with learning disabilities. Engaging in a background activity such as pacing, twirling your hair, or listening to music can actually help the brain focus more on the primary task. Background activity has even been shown to increase levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the same way ADHD medications do, thus leading to increased focus.

Average attention span

Psychologists claim the typical student’s attention span is about 10 to 15 minutes long with attention waxing and waning about every 2 minutes past that point. Research shows that these attention lapses can be minimized if students are actively engaged in learning and instructors use techniques such as demonstrations and questions to promote involvement. Another way to increase attention and focus in the classroom is to use multiple modes of instruction (auditory, kinesthetic, visual), but incorporating all of this into 10-minute sections can prove difficult. According to one study, “it’s unlikely that [students will] all respond well to a single best model of schooling,” so it is important to teach students in a variety of ways to increase engagement.

How to increase classroom engagement

There is no one-size-fits-all way to guarantee better engagement and consequently better focus, but experts agree that incorporating multiple methods will help you reach the most students. Here are some research-driven methods you can use to increase attention and focus in your classroom:

• Create learning stations

Place yoga balls, standing desks, or even stationary bikes in clumps around the room and allow kids to find the environment that works best for them.

• Use short bursts of instruction

Break up longer lectures into 10-minute sections with engaging activities in between.

• Keep it multimodal (visual, kinesthetic, auditory)

Individuals do not learn one way, and research indicates we all learn when presented with different media.

• Incorporate technology

A good online learning program breaks lectures into digestible sizes, provides interactive practice, and incorporates a variety of mediums to promote deeper understanding.

• Allow kids to move

Backed by current research, Finland instituted 15 minutes of free play time during every hour of class and is seeing fewer behavioral issues as a result.

• Make them laugh!

Jokes are a great way to win attention, and they help shake things up, too. Incorporating the unexpected prevents students from being habituated to the status quo.

A classroom without fidget spinners?

The modern classroom, filled with yoga balls and computers, offers a multitude of ways for students to be engaged in active learning, thus reducing distraction and leading to concept mastery. Through active involvement, we can move beyond an environment where students sit passively and listen to hours of lectures, and can instead allow children to direct their learning, which leads to increased attention and focus in the classroom. Students will probably always find a way to play with the newest fad, but if we can get them out of their seats and learning concepts with real-world applications, we stand a much better chance of saying goodbye to classroom distraction.


Blad, E. (2017, June 27). ‘Students Aren’t Widgets’ and Other Findings on Engaging Kids at School. Education Week. Retrieved from
Briggs, S. (2014, June 28). The Science of Attention: How to Capture and Hold The Attention of Easily Distracted Students. Retrieved from:
Cooper, B. B. (2016, April 26). The Two Brain Systems that Control Our Attention: The Science of Gaining Focus. Retrieved from
(2017, January). Edgenuity UpSmart Research Foundations. Retrieved from
Kim, K. (2017, May 11). Do Fidget Spinners Belong in the Classroom? Teachers Are Divided. Education Week Teacher. Retrieved from:
Rotz, R., & Wright, S. D. (n.d.). The Body-Brain Connection: How Fidgeting Sharpens Focus. ADDitude: Inside the ADHD Mind. Retrieved from
Silver, E. (2017, May 9). Fidget toys: Effective tools or classroom distractions? Washington Post. Retrieved from
Usher, A., & Kober, N. (2012). Student motivation—An overlooked piece of school reform. Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy (CEP).


About the Author


Emily Kirk

After growing up in the Phoenix area, Emily escaped the heat to study in Flagstaff where she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Art History. She went on to work and study at The University of Phoenix, earning her MBA. After volunteering to teach English in Chile for a semester, she worked in sales and marketing for a major ocean freight carrier. Throughout her career, Emily has also taught ballet, so she is thrilled to be part of the Where Learning Clicks team where she can combine her love of teaching and business acumen to help transform classrooms.