Classroom Acoustics – Impact on Listening and Learning

Click here for information on understanding classroom acoustic principles and the ANSI Standard S12.60 for Classroom Acoustics 

NOISY CLASSROOMS

A 10 minute Classroom Noise file (mpeg) is provided for your use when administering the Functional Listening Evaluation, working with students on listening in noise or when demonstrating listening in noise challenges.

Apps for signaling classroom noise levels: Looking for a phone app that teachers can use to signal when the classroom may be too noisy? There are a number of options! An app highly rated as being most valid is SPLnFFT (see YouTube video). Other apps include: Too Noisy AppSilent Light – Classroom Timer and Decibel Meter,  MyClassRules (this app overestimates actual noise levels by 20 dB).

Ideas on how to quiet noisy students: Go here . But noisy students are the easiest problem to handle when it comes to challenging classroom listening environments. How the classroom was built and the sounds surrounding it will define the background noise levels and reverberation times.

Representing classroom listening issues visually: Reverb visual analogyVisual Analogies for speech perception challenges when listening in a classroom. Explaining the effects of reverberation and background noise can be challenging. These visual representations help the teacher or other individual to recognize the challenge posed by poor acoustics and communicates how this issue can result in reduced pace of learning.  Also a puzzle analogy is also included to represent speech audibility and speech perception.

Handbook of Acoustic AccessibiltyStudent learning about classroom noise issues: Information for students or schools who want a fun way to learn about these issues can go to Quiet Classrooms, an alliance of non-profit organizations working to create better learning environments in schools by reducing noise.

Checklist for student to identify acoustic issues: Estimating Classroom Noise Effects   This 10—question checklist for students identifies aspects of classroom listening problems that may be related to poor classroom acoustics. Classroom Acoustical Screening Survey Worksheet  This 10-question checklist is to be completed by classroom teachers or observing teachers or educational audiologists. Any item of the 10 checked NO would raise a concern. Considering items from both of these checklists is a useful means to identify classrooms (or even schools) where poor acoustics is a concern and acoustic measurement may be warranted.

Apps to use to measure background noise in classrooms: Consider these apps to measure background noise in the classroom: Too Noisy Pro, Noise Hunter, NoiSee, SoundMeter, SPLnFFT. More info here. Per the acoustic standards, the background noise level should not exceed 35 dBA and we know that students with hearing loss need to have a +15 S/N to be able to perceive speech sounds optimally. How close do your student’s classrooms come to this? Even a gross measure of the teacher talking versus when she is not talking (preferably close to the center of the room at student ear height) via a phone app will give an idea as to whether the background noise level and teacher speech level are just a few dB different or are considerably different.

Summary of classroom acoustics research: ARTICLE: Kids in Noisy Classrooms: What Does the Research Really Say? Over 40 years of research findings have been categorized and summarized in this paper. The synergistic effects of background noise and reverberation on listening and learning result in a serious impediment to learning.

ARTICLE: Does noise affect learning? A short review on noise effects on cognitive performance in children.

Handout for schools: The Insidious Effects of Classroom Acoustics on Student Performance.  A 3-page handout for parents, school administrators, audiologists and teachers that summarizes the research and reality of inappropriate classroom acoustics and learning. Leave a copy in the staff lounge!  Classroom acoustics information and resources from ASHA.

Wind turbines by your school? Wind turbines are becoming increasingly popular as an energy source. The extra low frequency sound emminated from the turbines will have an effect on surrounding neighborhoods, and on learning if there is a school located close to a turbine. Refer to the following articles for more information:  Wind Turbine Noise – What Audiologists Should Know and Wind Turbine Noise – Recommended Design Goals .

Open Plan vs regular classroomOpen Plan Classrooms, or classrooms without walls, are a hazard to learning for ALL students. Read here for an article that clearly illustrates the listening issues related to open plan classrooms. The figure to the right illustrates the findings for typically hearing kindergarten students. Any student with auditory or attention issues can be assumed to perform more poorly than typically hearing students.

The Ted Talks video recording below has been included because it truly is an eloquent description providing vivid examples of how poor classroom acoustics effect learning and the costs to improve.

Because of poor acoustics, students in classrooms miss 50 percent of what their teachers say and patients in hospitals have trouble sleeping because they continually feel stressed. Julian Treasure sounds a call to action for designers to pay attention to the “invisible architecture” of sound.

http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_why_architects_need_to_use_their_ears.html

MAKING THE CASE FOR CLASSROOM ACOUSTIC CONCERNS

Classroom Acoustics – A First Step Toward Education for All   11/14/08 Slideshow handout

Visual Analogies for speech perception challenges when listening in a classroom. Explaining the effects of reverberation and background noise can be challenging. These visual representations help the teacher or other individual to recognize the challenge posed by poor acoustics and communicates how this issue can result in reduced pace of learning.  Also a puzzle analogy is also included to represent speech audibility and speech perception.

City MouseMissing Bits and Pieces of Words  This is a fun exercise that illustrates listening difficulties if classroom acoustics and/or hearing loss causes the higher frequency portions of words to become inaudible. Guess the story based on the ‘words’ presented. Consider how long it took you to figure it out. Those who never heard the story before (imagine new vocabulary in classrooms) may be at a loss to understand the meaning.

ARTICLE: Back to School! 13 Facts Revisited  (Hearing Review Sept 2004)  Children cannot access classroom instruction unless they can hear the teacher http://www.hearingreview.com/all-news/15928-back-to-school-13-facts-revisited 

SUPPORT FOR USE OF PERSONAL FM TO IMPROVE CLASSROOM LISTENING (not sound field amplification)

Summary of 3 FM Study Comparing Speech Perception in a Typical Classroom for Children with Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants Information from three experiments that indicate desktop FM or personal FM use results in better speech perception than using sound field amplification or hearing aids or cochlear implants alone.

From Australian Hearing: Personal FM or Soundfield Amplification? A short summary of research.

ARTICLE:Benefit of S/N Enhancing Devices to Speech Perception of Children Listening in a Typical Classroom with Hearing Aids or a Cochlear Implant Journal of Educational Audiology, 12 (2005)

ARTICLE: Speech Perception Benefits of FM and Infrared Devices to Children with Hearing Aids in a Typical Classroom  LSHSS, 35 (2004)

Soundfield Classroom Amplification Questionnaires for Teacher, Administrator, Student. Source: original MARRS Project 1978.

Updated January 2016.