By now, you’ve probably noticed I have a fascination…passion…possibly, an obsession with listening and sound. So let’s talk some more about it. Perhaps it has the greatest effect on learning than any other variable, and my goal is to enhance learning in all the students I encounter – directly or indirectly.
Did you know that noise was the number one quality-of-life complaint in New York City in 2013? It is the 2nd biggest type of pollution, after air pollution.
Many years ago, when I worked in New York City, I was often overwhelmed by the incessant noise and rushing. It seemed like the movement of the people on the streets mirrored the noise of the blaring sirens, pounding jackhammers, screeching taxi brakes, passionate vendors, and…
Every night when I got home, I was exhausted. My life seemed similar to the mouse in the spinning wheel. Lots of activity but hardly any significant accomplishment. The more I study sound, the more I understand why. The researchers tell us that it takes mental effort to screen out unpleasant sound, that is, noise. No wonder I was always tired.
That’s the noise outside. What about inside. That must be better, right? You be the judge.
This morning, as I walked into the school building where I provide speech-language therapy for a caseload of students, I was one hour and fifteen minutes early. It was quiet. Oh blissful quietude! I was going to organize my thoughts and files for the day.
Thirty minutes later, someone began playing a saxophone on the stage outside my side door. It’s a very thin wall. I believe originally, my room was the dressing room for the stage.
At first, it was soft and mellow – “Amazing Grace.” Then it grew louder – “I Did It My Way.” About fifteen minutes later, a trumpet and recorded accompaniment joined in. The volume crescendos. I got so distracted and frustrated that I grabbed my laptop and took refuge in my van outside until I finished what I was doing on it.
With the sub-zero real-feel temperature outside, the halls are cold. This cold air seeps under doorways making most rooms chilly. So all day long, a small space heater has been buzzing in my office.
The all-purpose hall (cafeteria, gym, auditorium) is also next to my office. So, in addition to the students practicing their instruments on the stage, I heard children running, clapping and screaming as they played; buffet equipment and utensils banging; garbage bins rolling; children chattering; and, after lunch, rehearsals for the upcoming assembly.
This is the environment in which significant learning is expected to take place. Children with listening difficulties (and that includes most of the ones who are struggling, if not all) spend so much energy trying to block out the disturbance, they miss what is being taught.
In addition to this, sound researchers tell us that, in a classroom set up in the lecture-style arrangement, speech intelligibility is reduced by 50% by the time it reaches the students in row 4. Those children have to work twice as hard to succeed in getting the knowledge being dispensed.
Considering that on any given day, there are children – 16% (1 in 8) of them – whose hearing is impaired due to colds, allergies, ear infections, etc.; only the strong learners survive.