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Learning is closely related to one's ability to give focus and attention to instructional activities. The ability to maintain attention for a period of time is especially critical between 6 and 7 years. At this age, children's attentional abilities are not fully developed. This study aimed to gain knowledge of actual behavior related to the attention span of first graders in elementary school during classroom activities. The data was obtained by observing one grade 1 elementary school in its natural setting with the time sampling method. Observations are based on the 'on-task and 'off-task behavior shown by the students. What found that the longest time elementary school grade 1 students were able to show 'on-task behavior indicating their attention span was 7 minutes. These results indicate a gap with the expected attention span of grade 1 elementary school children, which is about 18 minutes.
Nurlita Endah Karunia*a, Soerjantini Rahajua
Research Article
First Grader’s Attention Span During In-Class
Mutiara Tioni Asprilia1,Laila Qodariah1,Fredrick Dermawan Purba1
[1] Developmental Psychology Department, Universitas Padjadjaran, Indonesia
Learning is closely related to one's ability to give focus and attention to instructional activities. The ability to
maintain attention for a period of time is especially critical between 6 and 7 years. At this age, children's
attentional abilities are not fully developed. This study aimed to gain knowledge of actual behavior related
to the attention span of first graders in elementary school during classroom activities. The data was
obtained by observing one grade 1 elementary school in its natural setting with the time sampling method.
Observations are based on the 'on-task and 'off-task behavior shown by the students. What found that the
longest time elementary school grade 1 students were able to show 'on-task behavior indicating their
attention span was 7 minutes. These results indicate a gap with the expected attention span of grade 1
elementary school children, which is about 18 minutes.
attention span; class activity; first grade
Belajar dekat kaitannya dengan kemampuan seseorang untuk memberikan fokus dan atensi terhadap
aktivitas instruksional. Kemampuan untuk mempertahankan atensi untuk rentang waktu tertentu
khususnya kritis pada usia 6 hingga 7 tahun. Pada usia ini, kemampuan atensional anak belum
sepenuhnya berkembang. Tujuan dari penelitian ini adalah untuk memperoleh pengetahuan akan perilaku
sesungguhnya terkait rentang atensi anak kelas satu sekolah dasar selama aktivitas di kelas. Data
diperoleh dengan mengobservasi satu kelas tingkat 1 sekolah dasar dalam setting naturalnya dengan
metode time sampling. Observasi didasari pada perilaku on-task’ dan off-task’ yang ditunjukkan oleh
murid. Ditemukan bahwa waktu terpanjang murid kelas 1 sekolah dasar mampu menunjukkan perilakuon-
task’yang mengindikasikan rentang atensi merekaadalah 7 menit. Hasil ini menunjukkan kesenjangan
dengan rentang atensi anak kelas 1 sekolah dasar yang diharapkan, yaitu sekitar 18 menit.
Kata kunci: rentang atensi; aktivitas kelas; sekolah dasar
GUIDENA: Jurnal Ilmu Pendidikan, Psikologi, Bimbingan dan Konseling
Website :
Received:2020-10-11 Published: 2020-12-30
GUIDENA:Jurnal Ilmu Pendidikan, Psikologi, Bimbingan dan Konseling
ISSN:2088-9623 (Print) -ISSN: 2442-7802 (Online)
2020, Vol 10, No 2, 144-150
First Grader’s Attention Span During In-Class Activity
Children go through a transition from kindergarten to elementary school. The expectations put
on them regarding how they should behave in society, especially in class, are also different.
Children in kindergarten are expected to follow class, but their class often is a mixture of playing
and studying. In grade school, the class is more learning than playing and the information
children need to process is way more taxing. School at this stage, expect them to be able to
stay seated for a longer period and put more attention to the lecture. Behaviors that are drifting
away from the given task are called classroom misbehavior and they are no longer tolerated for
doing so.
Attention is vital in learning. Difficulties in attention and memory has been associated with
academic difficulties, behavior problems, and poor social functioning (DuPaul, McGoey, Eckert,
& VanBrakle, 2001). With the expectation to sustain attention during class for a certain period of
time at their age, first graders are not yet equipped with a mature ability. While on the other
hand, research has shown that first grade is a critical moment to attain basic scholastic abilities
such as reading which could affect academic achievement in the long run (Rabiner, Carrig, &
Dodge, 2016). In this research, we would like to see the actual performance of first graders’
attentional ability through their attention span during in-class activity. This information could be
useful for teachers or parents in supporting students’ learning and be used to adjust their
instructional method toward first graders.
Attention is a cognitive ability to produce, direct, and sustain a suitable alert state to process
information accordingly (Especialistas en estimulación cognitive, 2017). Attention is
characterized by a limited capacity to process information and this allocation of capacity can be
controlled (Styles, 2006). One’s attentional ability is very important in responding to stimuli met
in everyday life.
People develop their attentional ability since infancy. Even so, the early attentional ability is not
fully developed and this ability is only used for exploring their environment (Johnson, Posner, &
Rothbart, 1991). In the first 3 years of life, one develops an attention system (Ruff & Rothbart,
2010), and from 6 years of age people develop the ability to be alert and sustain attention.
Children of age 6 and 7 are expected to have an attention span of longer than 15 minutes
(Schaefer & Millman, 1981). This more simple function of attention shows early emergence
approximately in kindergarten developmental period and starts to stabilize at about 10 years of
age (Tremolada, Taverna, & Bonichini, 2019). This shows the importance of the development of
simple attentional function in the critical period because after it is fully matured, the ability will be
relatively stable.
The study itself aims to obtain data and provide insights on the actual performance of first
graders showing attention span. The results are hoped to shine a light on the assumptions of
poor concentrating ability associated with children of technology (Bhat, 2017). From the
observation, we found that first graders’ attention span fell below the expectation of their age.
Mutiara Tioni Asprilia1,Laila Qodariah1,Fredrick Dermawan Purba1
The study was conducted in one private educational institution in Bandung, Indonesia. The
primary school manages one class for each grade. The first grade is a mixed-gender class
consisting of 34 students with age range of 6 to 7 year old. After going through the process of
obtaining consent from school authority to do an observation inside the class during classroom
activity, all first grade students participated in data collection. No participants drop out during the
Structured observation using the time-sampling method was conducted in the natural setting of
participants. Observation was held for one-hour period during art class where students were
given task to color a pre-printed picture. The one-hour session was broken down into four
quarters, and further broken down into a five-minute time interval to check for ‘on-task’ and off-
task’ behavior shown by students during the in-class activity. Behavior listed as on-task’
includes eye contact and working on task as instructed while the behavior listed as ‘off-task’
includes talking out of task, getting out of seat, noncompliance, and playing with objects not
related to task given (Rhode, Jenson, & Reavis, 2010). This observation will provide data of the
emergence of certain behavior listed as ‘on-task’ or off-task’ that shows up during the time
Data Analysis
Measurable data such as the frequency of on-task’ oroff-task’ behavior during certain time
interval will be tallied. Data in the form of observation notes will be analyzed qualitatively.
Analyzing data using qualitative measure will not be as technical as quantitative method, but
more dynamic, intuitive, and using the creative process of inductive reasoning, thinking and
theorizing (Basit, 2003). Data in this study will be analyzed by exploring the experiences of the
phenomenon under study to increase our understanding of it by comparing the results with
theoretical expectation.
Validity and Reliability
It is important to ensure the validity and reliability of the observation conducted. An observation
protocol is considered to have good validity when the instrument measures what it is intended to
measure (Maxwell, 2012) and considered to have good reliability when it could be consistent
across time or observers (Mitchell, 1979). To assess the validity, triangulation method is used.
Validity of observation were checked by cross-checking them with other sources of data. If the
conclusion matches with another data from other sources then confidence of its validity can be
obtained. Time sampling is one method commonly used to look at attention span and especially
in classroom setting, as used in Arrington (1943). The observation protocol in this study uses
the common format of time sampling and provides the guidance definition of on-task’ and off-
task’ behavior. The reliability of an observed behavior is also closely linked to the validity of the
observation (DeMonbrun, Finelli, & Shekhar, 2015).
Scope and Limitation
By using a naturalistic observation, this study is able to have more ecological validity (McLeod,
2015). The study is linked closer to the relevant population and to the real-life context. This
First Grader’s Attention Span During In-Class Activity
observation in the natural setting serves like a case study and able to give us the opportunity to
study the total situation of the phenomenon. Though it managed to capture the real situation,
the study was conducted only in a small scale and therefore lacks representativeness of its
population. Considering this limitation, this study is not generalizable to a wider population.
Further study could deliberate over more study participants and/or additional measurement
instruments to supplement the data obtained from observation.
Result and Discussion
The observation conducted during a one-hour in-class activity showed that the average time first
graders could show on-task’ behavior fell in the range of 5 to 7 minutes. After at most 7
minutes, most first graders swift their attention to things unrelated to the task given, such as
talking to friends. This attentional ability displayed by the students are considered very short, as
2-year-olds are already expected to have an attention span of approximately 7 minutes
(Schaefer & Millman, 1981). Notes on observation are as shown in table 1.
Supporting literature stated that by 6 years old, one could have the approximate attention span
of 15 minutes or more (Schaefer & Millman, 1981). In comparison to the expectation, the
performance displayed by first graders under study fell extremely short. The fact that the result
failed to fulfill the ideal performance for this age group, land us the question of what might
underlie this gap. Even so, it is wise to put consideration on the different rate and speed every
human has on development. The maturation of the attentional ability may vary from person to
person. Especially for the age group of 6 to 7 year old, which maturation process of the ability to
focus and sustain attention had just started (Tremolada et al., 2019).
Other factor to consider is the transition process from kindergarten education system to primary
education system that they are currently going through. This goes hand in hand with the shift of
expectations society put on them, especially on how to act in certain situation. Technical factors
such as group size and teacher instructions might also affect behavioral engagement in first
grade classes (Lan et al., 2009). Another factor that also plays an important role is a person’s
rhythmic pattern, which explains that the daily attention variations in children age 4 to 11
changes along with age. In the first grade (6-7 years of age), the peak in attention in the school
morning occurs progressively later (Janvier & Testu, 2007). Then come the after-lunch slump
where the attention becomes shorter, and attention increases again during the afternoon
(Janvier & Testu, 2007). First graders are considered to have the regular pattern similar to those
of older age, but some first graders still fall in the kindergarten group (5-6 years) pattern. This
might explain the difference in varied maturation in first graders’ attentional ability.
The interrelation of emotional competence and cognitive competence is central in
understanding children’s functioning at school entry (Blair, 2002). As an essential cognitive skill,
attention could also underlie other problems such as behavioral problems or academic
achievement (DuPaul et al., 2001) that more often show their emergence later. Similar findings
showed the positive link between attention during kindergarten and future academic success
(Rhoades, Warren, Domitrovich, & Greenberg, 2011). The understanding of attentional skill of
studentsespecially those in the early stage of educationas a key mediator in facilitating
academic success (Rhoades et al., 2011) is one essential concern not to be overlooked.
Especially, supported by the result of this study that first graders attentional performance fell far
below the expectation. In clinical implication, spotting early attentional problems could also help
in identifying symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Mutiara Tioni Asprilia1,Laila Qodariah1,Fredrick Dermawan Purba1
Table 1.In-Class Activity Time Sampling Observation Notes
Hour (GMT+7)
Observation Notes
Under 5 minutes in after coloring activity started, students
started toone by onehad a chat with their chair mate.
A teacher came in to classroom and asked the students to
work neatly. The students once again worked quietly and direct
their focus on the assignment.
Most of the students started to talk to their friends and got out
of their seat to walk around the class.
The teacher came back to the class. The students went back
to work quietly on their own.
11 out of 34 students in the class stayed focus on their
assignment. The rest of the students have completely
abandoned their task.
6 out of 34 students in the class still working on their
assignment seriously. The rest have completed the task or
have completely abandoned the task.
This study unfold the gap of ideal attentional ability in first graders to be completely far below
expectation. However, this finding cannot be widely generalized because of the small size of
sample that doesn’t represent the overall population. The nature of naturalistic observation also
supported no manipulation in the process therefore many other factors might play a role in
affecting the result. Further research should be done with a greater sample size. It would also
be helpful to add supplemental data from other attentional ability measurement instrument to
get the all-round depiction of first graders attentional ability.
First graders’ attention span have an average of 5 to 7 minutes, which falls far below from the
ideal attention span for the age group at about 15 minutes. This finding is especially important in
the education field for it gives an understanding of one essential cognitive function in first
graders. Understanding of first graders’ actual attentional performance could help teachers and
other parties involved in educational setting to adjust the learning styles and put in special
consideration on factors that could support optimum development in young children.
The authors have no funding to report.
We thank P Elementary School for allowing us to collect data in the classroom during school-
First Grader’s Attention Span During In-Class Activity
About the Authors
Mutiara T.Asprilia has completed undergraduate degree in psychology. She is currently in her
second year as a graduate student majoring in clinical child and adolescent psychology.
Laila Qodariah completed master degree in clinical psychology at Universitas Padjadjaran. She
is a member and lecturer of the Developmental Psychology Departement at Universitas
Padjadjaran. Research wise, she has published on positive family behavior, emotion
development in children, and subjective wellbeing.
Fredrick D. Purba completed a PhD at the Erasmus University Medical Centre on quality of life
and published several studies on quality of life in Indonesia. He is now a lecturer at Universitas
Padjadjaran and the head of Developmental Psychology Department at Universitas
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... SD=1.20). It could be understood that young learners have shorter attention spans, and maintaining focus during listening activities could be challenging for them (Asprilia et al., 2020). They might become easily distracted by external stimuli or their own thoughts. ...
... When confronted with difficult listening tasks, they might struggle to comprehend the content or keep up with the pace, which can be overwhelming. In addition, young learners typically have shorter attention spans (Asprilia et al., 2020), and difficult listening tasks might require sustained focus and concentration. They might become easily distracted or lose interest, making it challenging to persist. ...
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Recently, research has begun to identify cognitive and social–emotional predictors of early academic success. Yet few studies have examined the mechanisms by which children's social–emotional skills are associated with later academic success. The present study examines the associations between preschool emotion knowledge, kindergarten attention skills, and first grade academic competence in a sample of mostly disadvantaged children. Results indicate that attention during kindergarten is a significant mediator of this association, even after accounting for the effects of maternal education, family income, and children's age, sex, and receptive vocabulary skills. The findings provide further support for the implementation of preventive curricula that focus on both social and emotional development as well as attentional development as one strategy for improving future academic success in young children.