Measuring Lost Time

Classroom management is an incredibly challenging task for each teacher participating in this study. Part of The Process is to quantify this challenge using data. How much instruction time is lost to deal with classroom management issues?

Metrics: Gathering the Data

To better illustrate an average day in one of our teacher’s classrooms, we identified three metrics to track every day for a two or three weeks:

  1. Multiple requests to follow directions
    • Are students following the posted procedures created and discussed at the beginning of the year?
    • Whenever the teacher has to ask student(s) to follow procedures more than once, this is recorded.
  2. Failure to actively listen
    • Are the student’s eyes on the speaker/assignment? Are side conversations occurring? Are students engaged in conversation (if asked) or paper work? Are they distracted with items in their desks? Are they creating distractions for other students? Are they allowing themselves to be distracted by other items in the environment?
    • Whenever the teacher has to ask student(s) to focus the lesson, this is recorded.
  3. Bad attitude/conflict
    • Is the student yelling at another student or adult? Is the student engaged in a verbal or physical altercation with another student? Is the student engaged in a verbal or physical altercation with an adult? Is instructional time interrupted to calm a dispute?
    • Whenever the teacher has to stop instruction to manage an altercation, this is recorded.

Data was collected from March 11 – 28, 2013 after the teachers had been working with their classes for at least 6 months. 44 classroom days were recorded (~11 days per teacher; *Teacher 3 was absent 2 days due to illness). Teachers collected this data by placing a tally mark on a data sheet under one of three columns each time an event met the conditions described above.

2234 tally marks were collected, as well as names/initials of students. Here is a summary of the tally mark data and averages for each classroom and all classrooms combined:

Table 13. Total Tally Marks for Each Classroom

This is a compilation from all four classes of the tally marks for each metric. There are a total of 2234 tally marks in all
 Multiple Requests to
Follow Directions
Failure to Actively
Bad Attitude/Conflict
Classroom 125314584
Classroom 2348207200
Classroom 3*916167
Classroom 457411391

Table 14. Daily Averages for Each Classroom

The total tally marks are averaged per day
 Multiple requests to
Follow Directions
Failure to Actively
Bad Attitude/Conflict
Overall Averages26
Classroom 119116
Classroom 2291717
Classroom 31077
Classroom 449710

Looking at Table 13, it helps to describe what these numbers actually represent. In row 1, column 1, our teacher in Classroom 1 recorded 253 instances of Multiple Requests to Follow Directions over 13 days of data recording. Since not all teachers recorded for the same number of days, this data is not the best for drawing conclusions. Table 14 shows daily averages for the entire period, considering only the days when data was recorded. In row 1, column 1, our teacher in Classroom 1 recorded an average of 19 instances of Multiple Requests to Follow Directions, while our teacher in Classroom 3 recorded an average of 10.

The overall averages blend all of the teachers together and show that the typical classroom averaged 26 daily occasions of needing to tell a student multiple times to follow directions. Even more disruptively, the typical classroom averaged 10 daily occasions of managing poor attitude or conduct. Each of the three events recorded divert the teacher away from instruction and toward less productive classroom management matters.

Loss of Instruction Time

In How Teachers Use Their Time, we show the time analysis for a graded ‘A’ school with no time dedicated to extraordinary issues outside of instruction. All of the disruptions measured above have a negative impact on the basic instructional time of 230 minutes. We have estimated the “loss of instruction time” for each of the factors we measured:

Table 15. Teacher's Estimates of the Length of a Disruption

This is a key table that defines the duration of a student's disruption.
Measured DisruptionInstructional Time Lost
in Minutes/Event
Multiple requests to follow directions.5
Failure to actively listen.25
Bad attitude/conflict4.5

With these estimates, we can now determine the amount of time lost each day due to classroom management:

Table 16. How Much Time is Lost Each Day to Classroom Disruptions?

This table shows the result of the time lost each day.
Measured DisruptionTime loss in
Average no. of
events /day
Lost instructional time
in minutes/day
Total lost time per day62
Multiple requests to follow directions.52613
Failure to actively listen.25113
Bad attitude/conflict4.510.2346

Table 16 suggests that the three measured issues eliminate 62 minutes from a 230-minute instructional school day. This represents a loss of 27% of instruction time, a loss that no student can afford. This works out to an extraordinary 186 hours of lost instruction time on a yearly basis. This time loss and associated disruptions do not contribute to a healthy or positive learning environment and our teachers believe impact student performance on assessment exams.

A retired Indianapolis principal of two elementary schools concurred, and suggested:

“The 62 minutes of lost instructional time is too low.”

But what percentage of this lost time is spent managing Type 3 students? Two of our four teachers recorded their data in such a way to determine how much of the 62 minutes spent dealing with disrupted originated with their Type 3 students:

Table 17. Lost Instructional Time by Student Type

This is a breakdown of the 62 total minutes by type of student
 Student Type
Lost instructional time in min./day for all students.924.137
Average min. per student.122.26.7

Analysis shows that 59.6% of the lost instructional time for each of the two classes originates with the Type 3s. If we assume that this percentage holds true for all four classes, that means that 37 minutes of instruction time were spent managing Type 3 students, the vast majority (73% or 27 minutes) arising from bad attitude/conflict events.


Upon completion of the paper the author asked a number of teachers, a principal and two superintendents (one retired) to read the document.  For the most part the teachers felt the paper was “spot on” in terms of describing what goes on in a low income classroom.

Suppose it was possible to suddenly snap our fingers and convert all Type 3s into Type 1s. Not only would we pick up the 37 minutes, we would see a dramatic improvement in the remaining 24 minutes since the Type 2s are no longer influenced by the Type 3s. Since a Type 1 needs very little classroom management, we would be able to recoup most of the 230 minutes of instructional time with the students. This improved time availability, along with a much-improved learning environment, will provide the impetus we need to excel on the standardized exams. We believe that this is one of the primary root causes for the classes’ poor test performance.