- The brains of children ages 6 to 9 have a significantly harder time than adult brains tracking and distinguishing voices amid background noise, such as other voices or sounds, according to Education Week's coverage of a new study conducted by Belgian researchers and published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
- The research has special implications for elementary students learning to read because young learners must be able to distinguish phonemes and follow instructions, which becomes more difficult for as classroom noise levels rise, Marc Vander Ghinst, the lead author of the study, said in the article. He suggests that teachers in the early grades take the time to pronounce phonemes and words correctly and in a quiet environment.
- Earlier studies have also noted similar differences in speech tracking in noisy environments between children who have dyslexia and those who don’t, but Vander Ghinst added that more research is needed in this area, especially in the teen years. The language used may also affect the results, as this study involved native French speakers.
Clearly pronouncing phonemes and words during reading instruction and keeping the learning environment during reading lessons as quiet as possible might seem like simple instructions, but not all elementary teachers may keep these elements in mind as they teach. This may leave students confused, especially if the teacher or the student has a strong accent or dialect. District leaders can help in this area by sharing such research findings with educators and instructional coaches and making sure that teachers are trained in the proper pronunciation of phonemes.
Creating a quiet environment for this type of instruction is important as well. Not all classroom activity has to be quiet and there is a time and place for talking, collaboration and activity, especially in an elementary classroom. But core instruction in subjects like reading and math generally improve in a quiet environment. Noisy classrooms can also add to student stress, research indicates.
School and district leaders can help by working with teachers to make the classroom environment sensory-friendly as well as quieter when it needs to be. Carpet, rugs, acoustic elements, such as ceilings and canopies, and sound dampening materials on walls and windows can help. Tech devices also sometimes add their own sounds to the mix, and these may be reduced by keeping them in top-notch condition.
Some of the noise, however, may result from poor classroom management techniques. Teachers may need to learn or review some strategies for reducing classroom chatter and voice levels, and restoring quiet through the use of devices, hand signals, or other non-verbal cues. If students know that there will be times they can talk freely, they may be more cooperative during quieter periods. Understanding the science behind quieter, calmer learning environments may also help both teachers and students see the reasons behind the rules.