Hearing is the foundation to reading

The “buzz” in the academic community is “Spread the Word, Read by Third.” There are three main areas of focus for improvement to make this happen. These include school readiness, attendance and eliminating the summer learning gap. However, another important area to consider is student’s access to sound in the classroom.

While most instruction occurs through the sense of hearing, classrooms can have up to up to 50-60 decibels of noise in them, which is the same intensity as normal conversation. Noise problems can be caused by excessively loud heating and air conditioning units, electronics, pencil sharpeners, and students moving around the classroom. Hallway and adjacent classroom noise can infiltrate the classroom, as well as street and playground noise from outside the classroom.

Many groups of children are at risk for reading and learning problems due to poor classroom acoustics including:

Children with any type of hearing loss

Children with otitis media or ear infections

Children with articulation and language disorders

Children who have learning disabilities

Children who are non-native English speakers

Children younger than 13

Noise can have a significant effect on hearing in the classroom, thus creating a vicious cycle. Noise masks speech sounds, leading to decreased speech perception. This in turn affects language processing and the brain’s ability to make sense of sounds. All this has an impact on the development of reading skills.

If a classroom had one 40 watt light bulb, would it be considered adequate lighting? Of course it wouldn’t! Therefore, why would excessive noise in a classroom be considered an adequate learning environment to access sound?

What can be done to improve the acoustical conditions in classrooms in order to increase reading and learning skills? First and foremost, the proper acoustical environment for classrooms should be considered before construction of a new school or renovation. These simple physical modifications can decrease noise in the classroom:

Suspended acoustical ceiling tile

Drapes on windows and walls

Add carpet or rugs to floor OR tennis balls to chair legs

Use cork board on walls for bulletin boards to reduce reflective surfaces

Close doorways to hallways

Close windows to outside.

After applying the above modifications, use of Classroom Audio Distribution Systems (CADS) in the classroom by the teacher is recommended. The primary goal of classroom amplification technology is to provide a high level of speech intelligibility and to distribute sound throughout the classroom. This assures that all students have access to the teacher’s voice no matter where they are sitting.

Research has suggested that the use of CADS has improved students’ reading scores and skills. Perhaps access to sound in classrooms should be an area of focus in “Spread the Word, Read by Third”?

Chris Hull is an Educational Audiologist with Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267). She is based out of the Marshalltown office and can be reached at 641-844-2421. AEA 267 serves over 60,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.