Reading & Literacy

Noisy Classrooms Complicate Learning for Some Readers

By Debra Viadero — July 14, 2009 1 min read

Science Daily reports this morning on a new study that documents how noisy classrooms can make it hard for children, especially those who struggle at distinguishing sounds such as “ba,” “da,” and “ga,” to learn to read.

“The ‘b,’ ‘d,’ and ‘g’ consonants have rapidly changing acoustic information that the nervous system has to resolve to eventually match up sounds with letters on the page,” Nina Kraus, the director of Northwestern University’s auditory neuroscience laboratory, told Science Daily. “What your ear hears and what your brain interprets are not the same thing.”

In the Northwestern study, the children who had the most trouble distinguishing those sounds tended to be poorer readers. Increasing levels of classroom noise, such as scraping chairs, chattering, and rustling papers, just made that task all the more difficult.

The researchers measured the accuracy of students’ sound perception in two ways: through electrodes that picked up their brain-stem activity and by asking students to repeat sentences they heard.

I know this sounds like one of those research findings that fall under the category of common sense. But if common sense guided instructional practice, the “open classroom” movement might never have flourished. Remember how much noisier those classrooms were once the classroom partitions were rolled back?

According to Northwestern, the full study was scheduled to be published today on the Web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At this writing, though, it hadn’t been posted yet.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.