The Effects of Added Physical Activity on Performance during a Listening Comprehension Task for Students with and without Attention Problems

By: Kelsie Christina Romaine

A review of:
Kercood, S., & Banda, D. R. (2012). The effects of added physical activity on performance during a listening comprehension task for students with and without attention problems. International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, 13(1), 19-32.

Challenges with attention pose a significant problem within classrooms, as students are expected to listen to verbally-presented educational materials and demonstrate their knowledge of the content. Many students find it challenging to continually do so without moving or fidgeting, and at the time of this publication, it was estimated that 5.9% of children worldwide and up to 1 in 20 children in the United States have a diagnoses of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Kercood & Banda, 2012). Unfortunately, these children are more likely to engage in off-task behavior (Carroll et al., 2006, as cited in Kercood & Banda, 2012), score lower on academic achievement tests (DuPaul et al., 2006; Loe & Feldman, 2007, as cited in Fedewa & Erwin, 2011), engage in disruptive behavior, or repeat a grade level (Barkley, 2006, as cited in Fedewa & Erwin, 2011). Physical activity prior to or throughout academic tasks is thought to provide a viable solution for remediating these challenges and enhancing focus, resulting in improved accuracy and completion time. Therefore, allowing movement in productive and non-distracting ways through the use of therapy balls or fine motor tasks may prove to be effective and feasible interventions within classrooms.

Kercood and Banda (2012) investigated the effects of physical activity on student performance within the classroom by examining the relationship between fine and gross motor tasks (i.e., doodling versus sitting on therapy balls) and a listening comprehension task. The study included children with and without attention problems, in which each student was exposed to both fine and gross motor tasks through an alternating treatment design (ABCA). They hypothesized that the addition of either physical activity would have positive effects on academic tasks for all students and were interested in confirming whether one task was more beneficial than the other.

Their study included four English-speaking students (two males, two females) who attended two separate general education classrooms within a suburban elementary school in the United States. Both male participants were 10 years of age and in the fourth grade, while the female participants were 12 years of age and in the sixth grade. Each student had varying experiences with attention, ranging from typical functioning (i.e., no attention or learning problems) to diagnosed ADHD or learning disability; however, none of the participants were on stimulant medication. Participants’ attention problems were measured using the Conner’s Teacher Rating – Revised: Short Scales (CTRS-R:S). Baseline information regarding students’ academic performance were obtained through four Woodcock Johnson (WJ-III) subtests. Listening comprehension was assessed through the use of a 12-item, multiple-choice questionnaires developed for each short story, in which factual comprehension questions (i.e., Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) were asked following administration of the recorded story. Dependent measures, obtained through this questionnaire, included accuracy (percentage of questioned answered correctly) and completion time.

Kercood and Banda (2012) provided individual results for each of the four students. In general, all participants demonstrated improvements from baseline in accuracy and completion time during both fine and gross motor intervention activities. Furthermore, these results were shown to somewhat carry over into the re-implemented baseline phase, as students continued to work at a faster pace but the three students who were noted to have attention problems displayed decreases in accuracy. Conversely, the average functioning student without attention or learning problems continued to have improved performance despite removal of interventions. Overall, the authors support their hypothesis that either form of physical activity produces improvements in academic performance for students of varying abilities. Furthermore, participants reported that they enjoyed both activities, suggesting that it would be well-received amongst students.

While this study contributes to the emerging body of research on the use of stability/therapy balls in an educational setting, several limitations must be addressed. The first being that the listening comprehension task was less than ten minutes and did not require any verbal responses. Future research could expand on this by utilizing more complex and/or lengthier listening comprehension assessments as well as by incorporating a wider variety of academic benchmarks (e.g., mathematics, spelling, etc.). Perhaps the most significant limitation is that this study was conducted in a simulated classroom after school hours, such that only the four participants were in the classroom and typical school components (i.e., multiple students, loud speaker announcements, other teachers/visitors, bells, fire alarms, etc.) were not present. It is recommended that future studies be executed during a routine school day and in an actual classroom setting, as this is more likely to provide generalizable information. While students were asked to indicate their preferences for tasks following the study, it is suggested that future research consider students’ preferences prior to intervention, as this may have an effect on the success of the differing interventions on performance. Lastly, opinions regarding the feasibility of each intervention should be collected from educators and administrators, as this will influence the success of the interventions as well as the ability for school systems to implement this program across grade levels.


Fedewa, A. L., & Erwin, H. E. (2011). Stability balls and students with attention and hyperactivity concerns: Implications for on-task and in-seat behavior. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(4), 393-399.

To cite this review, please use this reference:
Romaine, K.C. (2015). The effects of added physical activity on performance during a listening comprehension task for students with and without attention problems. Psychology Alert (1).