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Noisy Classrooms Hinder Learning

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

By Dana Selznick, CHC Teacher of the Deaf and HOH

Dana Selznick, Director, CHC's Education Center
Dana Selznick, Director, CHC's Education Center

As I settle into the child-size chair positioned in the back of the room, I notice that the windows are closed. Before long the classroom teacher walks over to me and says, “It's stuffy in here, isn’t it?” while she walks to the window to let in some fresh air, along with the sounds of the city.

A student feeding the class turtle calls my attention to the motorized hum coming from the tank. As I turn around, I see a few students reaching for the tissue box, hear the rustling of tissues and the chorus of sniffs and honks as they blow their noses, one after the other.

There's more rustling of paper as the teacher passes out handouts. Chairs scrape against the floor while students shuffle around to make room on their desks. A few students chat with each other as the room fills with whispers and giggles. The crescendo hits as a group of students start tapping their pens on their desks, creating a percussive beat that reverberates throughout the room.

I see the children sitting at their desks—a boy leans his head on his hand, a little girl shifts in her chair, struggling to focus. My eyes narrow in on the child I was there to observe. His shoulders sag, as if carrying a heavy weight. He rubs his hearing aid mold, hoping to relieve the discomfort caused by the noise. He appears to be trying to tune out the sounds around him, but it's impossible.

The noise is everywhere, filling up every nook and cranny of the room.

Noisy Classrooms Hinder Learning

Children raising their hands in a classroom to answer a question.

I wish I could say that this was a unique situation. But as a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing who frequently makes school visits on behalf of my young clients, this observation is made more often than not.

Why is noise in the classroom a problem? Studies have shown that noise can significantly hinder learning. This is certainly true for the children I work with who have varying degrees of hearing loss. In fact, a child with just a mild untreated hearing loss can miss as much as 50% in the classroom.

The harm, however, isn't limited to children with hearing loss. Studies have shown that noise in the classroom negatively impacts academic performance for all children. A landmark study by Arline Bronzaft, PhD, examined reading scores of children in a school where classes were located adjacent to elevated train tracks and compared them with reading scores of students on the quiet side of the school. Researchers found that by sixth grade, the students on the noisy side tested one year behind those on the quiet side.

Strategies for a Quieter Classroom

Fortunately, when I observe a noisy classroom, I'm able to offer strategies teachers can use to lessen the noise—strategies that will benefit every child:

  1. Absorbing Materials - Use curtains, carpets or rugs to absorb sound and reduce echoes.

  2. Artwork - Add artwork to the walls to further absorb sound.

  3. Bookshelves - Place bookshelves filled with books and other objects to break up the sound around the room.

  4. Sound System - If the classroom is large or has particularly poor acoustics, consider installing a sound system. This can amplify the teacher's voice and ensure that all students can hear clearly.

  5. Arrangement of Desks - Rearrange the desks to positively impact the sound quality. Try creating small groupings or a semi-circle. Try to avoid long rows as it is difficult for students to listen to a speaker who's at the other end of the row.

CHC's Educational Support Services

Dana Selznick, TOD, with a young CHC client
Dana Selznick, TOD, with a young CHC client

CHC’s certified Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are specially trained to provide support services to enhance the academic experience and help young students achieve their full learning potential. Classroom visits are one of many services we provide to bridge the gap between center-based speech/language therapy and the academic environment.

Learn more about our education services, many of which are available via telehealth to families living anywhere within the U.S. And please don't hesitate to contact me with questions you might have about your young learner.

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