Proof Points: Baseball’s lessons for teachers

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By Jill Barshay

For Independence Day, I decided to write about a study of our national pastime: baseball. Interesting education insights often come from research in other fields and this time sport has something worth our attention. 

The study, “The Dynamics Of Inattention In The (Baseball) Field,” is a draft paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June 2021 and was conducted by four economists at the University of Maryland, the University of Ottawa and Columbia University. (The Hechinger Report is an independent news organization based at Teachers College, Columbia University.) 

Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Attention spans can be depleted after a period of intense effort or concentration. Major League Baseball umpires made more errors in their pitch calls following pivotal moments in the game. 

  • Short rest periods replenished their attention spans.

Teacher Takeaway 
  • Researchers are testing whether short breaks in the classroom can improve students’ attention spans and achievement. 

  • Matching lesson plans to students’ attention spans is tricky because it depends on the individual student, what is being taught, how it is being taught and what the student did earlier in the day. 

Lit Review 
  1. Archsmith, James E and Heyes, Anthony and Neidell, Matthew J and Sampat, Bhaven N. (June 2021) "The Dynamics of Inattention in the (Baseball) Field." National Bureau of Economic Research Working Papers. 
  2. Godwin, K.E., Almeda, M.V., Seltman, H., Kai, S., Skerbetz, M. D., Baker, R. S., & Fisher, A.V. (2016). Off-task Behavior in Elementary School Children. Learning and Instruction, 44, 128-143.  
  3. Godwin, K. E., & Kaur, F. (2020). Investigation of attentional decay: Implications for instruction. In Denison., M. Mack., Y. Xu, & B.C. Armstrong (Eds.), Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2931-2936). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 
  4. Goodwin, K. and Moreno, A. (current research) “An Exploration of Brain Breaks to Enhance Attention Regulation and Instruction Uptake in Early Elementary.” Institute of Education Sciences grant R305A200522 
  5. Bradbury, Neil A. (2016)  “Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?” J Advances in Physiology Education 
  6. Moyer, Kenneth E.,  B. von Haller Gilmer (1954) “The Concept of Attention Spans in Children.” The Elementary School Journal. 
  7. Wilson, Karen; Korn, James H. (2007) “ Attention during Lectures--Beyond Ten Minutes” Teaching of Psychology, v34 n2 p85-89  
  8. Fast, Mike “What the Heck is PITCHf/x?” The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010 
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