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Classroom Acoustics  

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January 26, 2004

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Classroom Acoustics

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  Links     Classrooms are filled with noise.  For the child with hearing or auditory processing problems, classroom noise makes learning challenging because it affects spoken language perception.  Research has shown, however, that noise levels may also affect children who are not classified as having special needs.  There are several acoustic variables that need to be considered when making recommendations to help a child who has difficulty hearing in noise:
  • The Teacher's Voice
  • Ambient Noise in the Room
  • Reverberation in the Classroom
  • The Distance between the Teacher and the Students

The Teacher's Voice

For spoken language recognition to be adequately processed in a classroom, the teacher's voice should be 15 to 20 decibels louder than the background noise.  Research has shown that the teacher's voice may be softer than the classroom ambient noise for a good portion of the school day.

Ambient Noise in the Room

Ambient noise can be external, generated outside the classroom; internal, coming from adjacent rooms, hallways, through windows); or classroom noise such as children talking, papers being shuffled, noise from heating and air conditioning systems.  Ambient noise is capable of masking critical speech signals, particularly the consonants, contributing to spoken language misperception.  See 'Class Noise'.

Reverberation in the Classroom

Reverberation refers to the amount of time it takes for a sound to stop echoing (reverberating) within an enclosure.  Classrooms are highly reverberant because of the hard and reflective surfaces of the walls, floors, and ceilings.  New laws are being established that will prohibit high levels of reverberation in newly constructed classrooms, but older schools may not be mandated to conform to those laws.  See 'Acoustic Factsheet'.

The Distance between the Teacher and the Students

The further a child is from the teacher, the more the spoken language signal is degraded.  Sound is absorbed by other children's bodies, does not travel well over distances, and facial/visual cues are less well seen by children sitting at a distance from the teacher.  Classroom (sound field) amplification is one approach to overcome the detrimental effects of classroom noise.  See 'The Classroom'.

Such obstacles to listening and learning may be improved through the use of classroom amplification and/or the use of a personal listening device called an auditory trainer.  Contact your child's audiologist to help determine the best approach to helping you child .

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