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Optimizing Classroom Acoustics

The LDAC Research Committee has been providing short features for our newsletter on Canadian research and researchers in the field of learning disabilities. This time we are featuring Dr. Rhonda Rubin, a Speech Language Pathologist in New Brunswick and member of the LDAC Board:

Classroom acoustics contribute to a student ’s ability to hear, understand and learn. Only 31% of the kindergarten to grade 3 classrooms in a Canadian study (Rubin et al, 2011) met the recommended standard, while hearing screenings revealed a prevalence of hearing problems between 12%-29% in the students. Poor classroom acoustics caused by ambient noise, reduced intensity of the teacher’s voice and the reverberation time mean many learners are often working in below standard classroom listening conditions. This may hinder their performance, particularly those with learning disabilities, hearing loss or with a limited grasp of the language to be able to fill in the gaps.

Classroom amplification may be beneficial and one solution to the problems posed by poor acoustics. This technology amplifies the speaker’s voice so students can hear at a steady level over extraneous noise regardless of where they sit in the room or how much the teacher moves while speaking. When a teacher must raise their voice to be heard, the vowels become louder, but consonants are obscured, distorting the speech signal.

In an ideal classroom, words are heard and understood with little effort. In the Rubin et al (2011) study, acoustic measures showed better signal to noise ratio in amplified classrooms and the flow of communication improved. Students focused better and exhibited fewer distracting communicative behaviours when they could hear the teacher clearly. Both teachers and students felt that the technology enhanced the learning process resulted in more efficacious communication and facilitated inclusion of students with special needs.

Rubin, R.L., Flagg-Williams, J.B., Aquino-Russell, C., & Lushington, T.P. (2011) The classroom listening environment in the early grades. Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology 35(4):344-359.

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