IMPACT OF AUDIO
Classroom acoustics are often overlooked when educators think of ways to improve the classroom. However, only about 10% to 30% of classrooms meet the current standards for listening, which introduces a slew of hurdles for educators to overcome when trying to help students learn at school.
“only about 10% to 30% of classrooms meet the current standards for listening,”
Poor classroom acoustics leads to easily misunderstanding instructions, important school information, and cognitive fatigue. The impact of these difficulties on students greatly increases when we realize that children spend up to 70% of their school day listening to instructors and peers, and there is a large risk of students being unable to understand content that educators are providing during school hours. The consequences of missing out on material is similar to not attending class at all -- unable to fully understand the concepts, students are at risk of not being able to finish their homework properly, or feel discouraged participating in classroom discussions. Ultimately, this risk could even lead to failing a grade.
Despite the fact that our ears can pick up noise without much problem, our brains do not always process all of these words—in classrooms, this means that just because students can hear, it might not mean that they fully understand. Audiology’s article on children’s hearing in the classroom separates differences between hearing, listening, and understanding with important definitions as outlined below:
“Hearing means you are aware of the presence of sound. Listening is an active activity where you have to put forth some work to register the information. Understanding means having a sufficient language and knowledge foundation to be able to follow what is said.”
In terms of optimal learning in the classroom, the goal is to deliver content in a format that students will not just hear, but understand, which requires clear communication. Poor sound quality in the classroom greatly hinders students’ ability to understand instructions and information, and when information is difficult to understand, some students may find themselves giving up, or caring less about the content. The bottom line is that unclear audio can make listening feel like a chore—and in a learning environment, students should be engaged and excited about everything they hear in the classroom.
Audio in the classroom should be prioritized in order to create an environment that is easiest for students to learn and retain information. The benefits of an improved audio system can feel subtle, but will make a drastic impact on learning in the classroom:
- Eliminate distracting noise levels (overcome ambient noise)
Shuffling chairs, coughing, or even the drop of a pencil can make things difficult for a student to hear, especially from the back of a classroom. Ambient noises from the outside are almost impossible to control as well—but by proper amplification, teachers can project their voices effectively over the ambient noises, and have a clear source of sound for students to focus on.
- Improve students attention to instruction
Reducing ambient noise in the classroom and amplifying the teacher's voice can allow instructions to become clearer and easier to follow. Teachers do not have to worry about repeating instructions over and over again or straining their voices—clarity from an audio system means never having to fight other noises for students’ attention again.
- Increase class interaction and participation
When students feel that they understand the material being taught in the classroom, their confidence also increases. Feeling comfortable with the material, students are also more eager to participate and to interact with both the teacher and their peers; thus audio presented with clarity can help boost student engagement.
- Discourage behavioral problems
Studies have indicated that shouting raises stress levels of both students and teachers. A TeachWire article about raising voices mentions, “Shouting stops positive relationships forming and it can make children anxious, waiting for the next outburst,” comments Beth Bennett who is a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENco). Both research studies and teachers’ personal experiences suggest that shouting discourages students from truly engaging, and some may even begin to tune out further instructions from the teacher simply because the environment is too chaotic. Being able to address the class with a calm, but clear voice will reduce the risk of behavioral problems, and teachers will find it easier to direct and lead the classroom as intended.
- Reduce teacher’s vocal strain
Teachers commonly overstrain their voices too much when trying to talk over noise—it’s reported that teachers are 32 times more likely to report voice difficulties than people in other jobs. One study highlights that of the participants they surveyed, 85.9% of them reported some sort of voice disorder at some point during teaching, so it should be an important issue to address for teachers to protect their voices for the purposes of their own health. Vocal strain aside, raised voices aren’t as effective when teaching because consonants can still feel underemphasized, and some words may not be enunciated properly. Not only does projecting a voice cause unnecessary strain, but complications based on the tone and delivery of a lesson can often lead to confusion and misunderstandings in the classroom.