May 12, 2022

Change the classroom experience with audio instructions

(Image credit: Unsplash)

At Simi Valley Unified School District, we are committed to making sure every learner feels welcome and can access the resources they need to succeed. This commitment is what inspires us to find impactful new ways to support our student body.

So when we realized that our deaf and hard of hearing population at Mountain View Elementary needed more support, we looked for a solution. This came in the form of an instructional audio system.

We hoped the system would alleviate some of the challenges our students faced. The result was even better than expected: a district-wide change that not only improved the classroom experience for our hearing-impaired students, but also changed the classroom experience for all of our students and teachers.

Advocacy for educational audio

Studies over the past four decades have underscored the crucial link between the ability to hear clearly and learning.

In the Handbook of Acoustic Accessibility, Joseph Smaldino, PhD., and Carol Flexer, PhD., explain that as the noise level in a room increases, children may lose the ability to multitask or perform demanding learning activities.

This has become particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our schools have adapted safety protocols such as face masks, social distancing and remote learning to keep students and staff safe.

Pandemic-related changes have presented new challenges for schools and districts. Although necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, face masks muffle sound, making it harder for teachers to relay information and for students to hear it.

It’s challenges like these that prompted us to accelerate our plan to implement instructional audio in all Simi Valley classrooms. We knew instructional audio was effective, and by bringing the technology throughout the district, we could better support all of our teachers and students. Federal pandemic relief dollars helped fund the district-wide deployment.

Improving learning for all

In addition to improving speech perception, instructional audio has been shown to improve student learning and social behaviors, including increased communication with peers and teachers.

Conducted and certified by the US Department of Education, the Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study determined that a variety of student groups benefit from instructional audio, including:

  • Deaf students
  • Children under 15
  • Students seated at the back of the class
  • Students with academic difficulties
  • Students in a noisy classroom
  • Students in a team teaching environment
  • Students with a soft-spoken teacher
  • Students with Learning Differences
  • English learners

Clear sound is especially important for students with auditory processing disorders and attention problems – and can help avoid unnecessary dismissals. The MARRS study found that the number of students referred to special education from K-6 decreased by 43% in amplified classrooms – for students with and without hearing loss.

Other studies have identified associations between the use of instructional audio systems and academic achievement, including literacy, reading fluency, listening comprehension, and reading vocabulary.

We experience these effects firsthand. We soon realized that educational audio could benefit all learners, not just those with hearing loss.

Reinforcement instruction

However, the need for educational audio does not stop with students.

In Visible Learning for Teachers, it is revealed that teachers speak for 70-80% of class time, on average. However, teachers who use instructional audio systems report ease in speaking and greater vocal endurance, as well as less fatigue and greater voice clarity. This has certainly been the case in our own district. Some of our softer-spoken teachers have reported increased energy because they no longer force their voices to be heard.

Mountain View teachers led the charge in our search for an educational audio solution. It was important for us to allow enough time for research, as these were the staff members who would be using technology in their classrooms every day.

In the end, our district decided to implement Lightspeed’s instructional audio system. Even our teachers who aren’t as tech-savvy feel comfortable taking full advantage of it in the classroom. They see that when students have equal access to sound, they can understand more than what their teacher is saying — they are also able to pick up on the tone and intonation of the instructor.

Investing today benefits the learners of tomorrow

Clear communication between teachers and students has never been more urgent. As we reimagine what education looks, feels and sounds like, it is essential that we think about the changes we can make today to benefit the students and teachers of tomorrow.

At Simi Valley, educational audio has an extremely positive impact on the lives of teachers and students. We have cultivated an environment where every learner can hear every word – a goal that other districts can achieve.

With pandemic relief funds available to support the reopening of schools, we suggest school and district leaders consider including audio instruction in their plans – it has the potential to become one of your most essential tools.

Jennifer Goldman is the principal of Mountain View Elementary School in Simi Valley, California. Sean Goldman is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services for the Simi Valley Unified School District.

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