November 2, 2007

During a press conference on Parliament Hill, the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA) alerted parents that a noisy classroom can affect a child’s ability to learn.  

With children back in school for a new year, audiologists and speech-language pathologists advise parents to be aware of the noise conditions in their children’s classrooms. Children, who primarily learn through listening, need a learning environment in which they can fully hear and understand the teacher’s instructions.  

 A newly released study by Rubin et al (August 2007) found that many classrooms had poor quality acoustics and that children were often working in below-standard classroom listening conditions. Results from a Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network study show that 1 in 6 words is not understood by the average Grade 1 student due to excessive background noise and poor acoustics in Canadian classrooms. 

“It is essential for parents to know that noisy classrooms have the potential to negatively affect their children’s learning, particularly for children with learning disabilities, hearing loss, or those learning in a second language,” said André Lafargue, CASLPA audiologist from New Brunswick, “and more importantly, that acoustics in classrooms can be improved to maximize learning.”

Speech-language pathologists warn teachers that, under poor acoustic conditions, teachers adjust their speech in ways that contribute to voice strain. Studies (including those by Titze et al [1997] and Rammage [2004, 2006]) demonstrate that teachers are over-represented in voice clinics compared to population statistics, comprising up to 25% of total voice clinic caseloads. With ongoing vocal strain in poor acoustic conditions, teachers develop chronic voice problems such as muscle tension, hoarseness, and vocal nodules. Although voice amplification systems can be helpful, it is critical to ensure that room acoustics, especially reverberation, are optimized before introducing sound field amplification. Teachers often must undergo voice therapy to solve their occupational voice problems.

Audiologists and speech-language pathologists remind parents and school officials that background noise in classrooms is more than just classmates’ chatter. Sources of noise and poor acoustics include: 

Outside noise sources:

• Vehicles, airplanes, etc

• Voices (playground)

Inside sources:

• Student activity

• Equipment: computers, projectors, fish tanks

• Reverberation (echo) of sound within the room due to hard surfaces (uncarpeted floors, walls…)

• Neighboring classrooms, hallways, gyms, music rooms

• Ventilation and heating/cooling systems

• Classroom lighting systems (i.e. fluorescent lights)

Helpful tips to improve classroom acoustics:

• Make an “x”-slit in tennis balls and place under the legs of chairs and tables in uncarpeted classrooms

• Add hypoallergenic carpeting and curtains 

• When appropriate, soundfield amplification systems in the classroom can benefit  students and the teacher’s vocal health 

• Replace ballasts from noisy fluorescent light fixtures

• Fix loose or vibrating parts to reduce noise from heating/cooling and ventilation systems

• Move freestanding furnishings to break up sound reflections and isolate areas in large rooms

• Use suspended acoustic ceiling tiles, sound-absorbent panels on upper walls

• Add cork boards to walls

CASLPA President Linda Rammage urged “that all new schools should be built with consideration of classroom acoustics and existing schools should be assessed and improvements made to address acoustics.”