kitchen table math, the sequel: Wrong again: noise in the classroom

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wrong again: noise in the classroom

Progressive educators seem to like noisy classrooms, I've noticed.

Here's Carmen Farina:
“Once I was about to visit a principal,” [New York City Schools Chancellor] Ms. Fariña said, “who told me, ‘You’re going to love coming here because you can hear a pin drop.’ I said, ‘I better not come because that isn’t going to make me happy.’ ”

Schools Chancellor Brings Joyful and Fierce Style
And here's reality:
...[E]merging research suggests that quieter noises can have varied effects on student learning and memory.


Low or barely perceptible sound—be it from a lecture in the classroom next door, a heating system that keeps turning on and off, or even a classroom aquarium filter—can increase stress and interfere with memory and learning....

“You can’t depend on the kids to complain,” said Ruth M. Morgan, a speech pathologist at Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Kids generally go with the flow, and they wouldn’t let you know there’s too much background noise.”

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Noise is measured in decibels on a logarithmic scale; every 10 decibels marks an increase in sound that is twice as loud. Normal conversation is usually in the range of 60 to 65 decibels, and children often speak more softly than adults, as low as 35 decibels.


...In a 2013 study in the Journal of Urban Health, a publication of the New York Academy of Medicine, 8- and 9-year-old students who had higher “ambient” noise levels in school performed significantly worse on standardized tests in mathematics and French language, after controlling for their socioeconomic backgrounds. A difference of 10 decibels of regular background noise was associated with 5.5-point-lower scores on average in both subjects.

Similarly, a prior study found students were highly distracted by a television playing in an adjoining room, even when it was barely audible, but they were unable to identify why they were having trouble concentrating.


The results don’t surprise Ms. Morgan in Chapel Hill. She noticed that while the classroom didn’t seem particularly loud, both she and her students seemed to be having trouble following conversations during sessions in which students worked in groups.

“So much of class now is the children speaking to each other, doing buddy reading,” she said. “And children’s voices are softer; I was having difficulty hearing them.”

Some sounds are also more vulnerable to distortion: s-, sh-, and ch- sounds in speech are particularly easy to mistake when competing with low-frequency mechanical sounds, such as the hum of a computer fan or heating system.

Ms. Morgan said she thinks her school’s noise issues may be common in older schools, where former “open concept” classrooms were later closed in with walls that typically have less noise insulation than new construction, allowing students to hear more lectures and mechanical sounds in other rooms.

Low-Level Classroom Noise Distracts, Experts Say


momof4 said...

My kids attended a MS that was originally built, in the 70s) with open classrooms (other than PE, drama and music). It was such a disaster that almost all of the classrooms had been enclosed by the time my oldest arrived in the mid-80s, with the others enclosed within the next few years. Teachers and students hated open classrooms equally - and that was in the era when in-class groupwork was rare. As an idea, open classrooms are even worse than wall-to-wall carpet in the kitchen.

froggiemama said...

Open classrooms were big when I went to school. My elementary school was completely built on an open plan. Each grade had one huge space. Oh my god, was that awful. The teachers quickly improvised classrooms by putting up bookshelves to divide the space, but it was insanely noisy. This was around 1970. I think the school was built around 1966 or 67.

lgm said...

It doesnt matter kid brought ear protection to elementary in order to get seatwork done. Full inclusion means many classmates who must talk loudly or tantrum as part of their disability. It also means many 1:1 aides who talk incessantly.

froggiemama said...

We actually did a lot of groupwork back then, both in elementary school and junior high. In junior high, in 8th grade language arts, all the high achieving students were paired off with the low achieving students, and were supposed to "work together" to achieve understanding. Since there was no tracking, many of the low achieving kids could not read. As you can imagine, it turned into a case of the high achieving students doing the homework for their teammate.