School Climate & Safety

Loud and Clear

October 01, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
In the fight to be heard, teachers turn to microphones.

One of the first things visitors notice about Kim Gall’s classroom at Silver Springs Elementary School in Northville, Michigan, is that her 2nd graders are paying close attention. Even when she has her back to them, the kids seem genuinely interested in what she has to say. Perhaps that’s because the sound of her voice resonates as clearly as a bell as she strolls among the desks. Gall, like each of the 38 teachers at her school, wears a wireless microphone around her neck. It broadcasts her words through four speakers tucked into the corners of the class. This amplification setup, called a “sound field system,” doesn’t make her voice much louder but distributes it evenly throughout the class.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it, now that I’ve had it,” Gall says of the technology. “My voice at the end of the day isn’t nearly as tired. It also allows me to be very mobile and know students can hear me as I move around.” And the teacher’s not the only beneficiary. She shares her mike with her kids when they’re reading aloud or answering questions. “The students feel empowered by speaking into the microphone,” she says. “They like that everyone is hearing them.”

Experts say that noisy classrooms are common at American schools, due to poor acoustics, overcrowding, and loud heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment. Carol Flexer, professor of audiology at the University of Akron, knows of teachers who have had to alternate between talking and cooling the room because they could not raise their voices above the din of the air conditioning. “You could hear or you could breathe, but you couldn’t do both at the same time,” she says.

This is a huge problem, according to Flexer and others, because noisy classrooms interfere with children’s learning. “The whole issue is brain development,” she explains. “In order to stimulate the brain with sound, the sound has to get to the brain. And if it doesn’t get there because of poor classroom acoustics or distance or whatever, then the brain isn’t being stimulated, and learning can’t occur.”

“Children don’t listen like adults listen,” the audiologist adds. “All children need a quieter room and a louder signal than adults need.”

‘My voice at the end of the day isn’t nearly as tired. It also allows me to be very mobile and know students can hear me as I move around.’

Kim Gall,
Teacher,
Northville, Michigan,

A child’s auditory neurological network is not fully developed until about the age of 15. In their younger years, many kids experience signal noise deficit, meaning they have difficulty hearing certain frequencies of sound, especially when background noise interferes. Also, with shorter attention spans, children are less effective than adults at sorting speech from noise. Distracting sounds can prevent them from hearing minor differences between words as they learn to read. And children don’t have decades of life experience to help them listen better. Not only can most adults “listen through” background noise, but they can often “fill in the blanks” of information they fail to hear, Flexer notes.

Over the past five years, the Northville district has outfitted all of its five elementary schools with amplification technology. “We initially offered sound field systems only to those teachers who requested them, but it wasn’t very long before everybody wanted them,” says Bob Sornson, Northville’s executive director of special services.

At a price of as much as $1,000 per classroom, the technology has cost the district more than $80,000. But Sornson calls it “an excellent investment” and believes it is a key reason why Northville has a relatively small percentage of students in special education programs—6.5 percent, which is half the state average and significantly down from 10 percent eight years ago. And Northville is not the only district embracing the technology. Scott Wright, president of Lifeline Amplification Systems in Platteville, Wisconsin, says his company’s sales of sound field systems to schools throughout the United States have increased by 40 percent in the past five years. He notes that at least half of these systems are funded through private sources, such as parent-teacher organizations and business clubs.

“When we look at creating an educational environment, we’re clear we need lights,” Flexer says. “We’re clear we need climate. But we haven’t been clear about sound. We think sound is there because to an adult mind it’s adequate. But it’s not adequate to a child’s mind.”

—Lynn Waldsmith

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Opinion Schools Have Put Their Money on Security Officers. Is That Smart?
After school shootings, people want policymakers to "do something." But is hiring more law enforcement the right thing?
David S. Knight
5 min read
Illustration of two silhouetted heads facing each other, one is wearing a police hat
wildpixel/iStock/Getty Images
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center How Many Teachers Have Been Assaulted by Students or Parents? We Asked Educators
Some teachers and principals suggest student misbehavior could be associated with challenges related to returning to in-person learning.
1 min read
Empty classroom in blurred background.
Classrooms were empty during long stretches of remote and hybrid instruction. Some educators suggest student behavior problems are linked to the bumpy transition back to in-person learning.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety A Sheriff Is Putting AR-15s in Every School. What Safety Experts Have to Say
The Madison County, N.C., school district made headlines for placing assault rifles in SRO offices ahead of the new school year.
6 min read
AR-15-style rifles are on display at Burbank Ammo & Guns in Burbank, Calif., June 23, 2022. Gun manufacturers have made more than $1 billion from selling AR-15-style guns over the past decade, and for two companies those revenues have tripled over the last three years, a House investigation unveiled Wednesday, July 27, found.
AR-15-style rifles are on display at gun store in Burbank, Calif. School safety experts say it's not unheard of for school districts to place such weapons in schools, but it requires serious consideration of the potential risks.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety 3 Reasons Many Schools Don't Have Classroom Doors That Lock From the Inside
School facilities experts explain why what seems like a simple school-security is not so simple.
2 min read
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen as Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies at a Texas Senate hearing at the state capitol, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed in the mass shooting in Uvalde.
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen during a Texas Senate hearing on the deadly shooting there.
Eric Gay/AP