Background noise in a classroom can come from a variety of sources. Maybe the door is open and there are loud activities occurring in the hallway, children on the playground laughing and hollering and having fun right next to the window. The dinosaur age air
conditioning/heating unit kicks on in the back corner of the room. The projector hums along as you show the YouTube video that you are so excited about because it perfectly matches the concept you are about to teach. Maybe you ask the children to get up from their seats, but not until you say so, to move to the carpet to begin a new unit, but they all get up and move their squeaky chairs and head to the carpet while you are still giving instruction.
All of these day-to-day noises that occur in your classroom are usually easy to ignore, tune out, and filter through for most students. Maybe you never even noticed your projector is that loud?! It’s okay, most people wouldn’t. This, however, is a challenging listening environment for a student who has hearing loss. Even in perfect listening environments, students who have hearing loss are working harder to understand the message. They may be relying on context clues to fill in holes in the message that they couldn’t quite make out, some are watching your lips to decipher the sounds they missed, and they may be relying on the visual supports in your lesson to piece together the main goal of the activity.
Classroom acoustics is not usually a main topic of instruction in regular education programs. However, for teachers who have students in their class that utilize amplification technology such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and bone conduction hearing aids, it is essential. It involves creating a positive listening environment by cutting background noise and limiting the amount of hard surfaces. Having good classroom acoustics may also support students who are learning English, struggle to pay attention, have temporary hearing loss, have speech/language delays, and have learning disabilities.
Here are a few tips to get you started on creating a more positive listening environment for your students!
Visual Access to the Teacher:
During instruction of any kind, be sure you are facing the student(s) and that you are standing in a place where the student(s) can see your face. This is good for students who lip read and for those who do not, [not all who have hearing loss lip read]. It is helpful to have clear access to the sound of your voice. Many teachers walk and talk or turn around to pick something up or write on the board which, normally would cause no issue, but for students who have hearing loss turning away from the student not only takes away visual access of your face but it also sends the sound waves of your voice off in different directions. This can make your speech unclear as the sound waves will bounce off of other surfaces obstructing the message.
Many classrooms are built with a variety of hard surfaces and furniture such as large whiteboards, hard tile floors, large tables, desks and chairs that squeak when moved across the floor. Sound waves bounce off of hard surfaces and scatter in many direction yet are absorbed in soft porous materials such as fabric, carpet, tablecloths etc. Now, I’m not
saying you have to cover every hard surface in your classroom, but you do want to limit the amount of hard surfaces allowing students with hearing loss to more clearly understand instruction, participate in discussions, and limit over all background noise. And really, this can be beneficial to all students in the classroom. Below you will find some ideas to help improve your classroom acoustics.
- Place soft tips on the feet of chairs so they move silently across the floor.
- Create/hang more bulletin boards in your room and cover with fabric to reduce hard wall space.
- Use large area rugs wherever you can to cut down on the reverberation from the tile floor.
- Hang curtains in your classroom – especially over windows.
- Use student work to hang on the walls and even from the ceiling.
- Discuss with the class the importance of not talking when you are giving instruction so everyone understands and can do their best work.
Children with hearing loss may require preferential seating (this may be required by their IEP). The main thing to remember here is that it doesn’t always mean the front row in front of the teacher. Especially for children who have hearing aids, they most likely have a directional mic. This mic usually has at least two settings. The directional microphone allows the student to filter out sounds from behind them so they can solely focus on the sounds in front of them. The omni-directional microphone allows the hearing aid to pic up sounds from all directions, important to hear sounds/someone speaking behind them as well as in front of them. Students also don’t want to always be pointed out as needing special attention and would rather not sit right by the teacher or in the front row. With all of this considered it is also important to ask the child where they would like to sit. Usually, the best place for the child to sit is the second or third row and slightly to one side, so they don’t miss out on the group discussion, and with a direct line of sight to the teacher, as explained in tip #1.
[During group discussions it is also important to summarize what children say when you call on them to participate so if the child was not heard by the group they can still receive the message. ]
Visuals and Manipulative Materials:
The educational world is buzzing with talk about how critical it is to use a multi-sensory approach in your day-to-day instruction so you are satisfying each type of learner in your classroom. So I definitely won’t be sharing any ground breaking information when I suggest a strong visual and kinesthetic aspect to each learning experience you plan and conduct. The main thing you want to remember is most individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are visual learners. [Think of American Sign Language for instance. It is a
visual/kinesthetic language.] Visual supports have been proven to help a plethora of learners, but specifically those who have hearing loss. Use videos, models, pictures, demonstrations, webs, graphic organizers, anchor charts, classroom posters, and hands on activities whenever you can and especially if the concept is new. This will provide great support for your kiddos who have hearing loss and also for every other child in your class.
Self-Service Amplification Station:
If you have a student or students in your class who utilize amplification technology (FM systems, hearing aids, cochlear implants, etc.) and are independent enough to handle and care for their technology [ yes this is an independent skill they need to be responsible for on their own ] it is a good idea to have a self-service amplification station in your classroom. This can be as simple as a little table or a little drawer where batteries, battery life checkers, chargers for FMs and cochlear implant batters, and hearing aid cleaning kits are stored. This is great for you as a teacher to keep an eye on their technology, know that the materials are safe, organized, and being cared for, and it doesn’t take time away from their learning if it can be easily accessed at anytime during the day without pausing instruction.
There are lots of ideas and strategies out there to help you improve the acoustics of your classroom, and these 5 quick tips will get you started!