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Sound Equity in the Classroom

15 September 2021|Hannah Olson

Students in the front row get better grades than those who sit in the middle and the back. While shaking up the seating chart is one way to help give each student a fair chance, a more effective solution is to address why students in different sections of the classroom perform worse than others. It has been proven time and time again. Classrooms are full of invisible barriers working against both the teacher and student further away from the teacher from hearing each other clearly. The differences in sound quality can be subtle and almost unrecognizable in a classroom but possess a serious question of equity in the classroom.

What is Sound Equity?

The typical classroom is built for space, not for sound. Most of the time, sound quality is an afterthought in the overall design of a classroom. One of the reasons that front row learners perform better on tests has a lot to do with sound quality. Ambient noise levels and poor acoustics make it difficult to pay attention.

Audio technology like microphones and speaker systems fill a need that many students didn’t even know they had. The simple solution of amplifying the teacher’s voice so everyone can hear helps keep students on task and not distracted.

I know this to be true from my own personal experiences. I never had a teacher that used a microphone and I usually sat to the far back right of the teacher when he was at the chalk board. It was very difficult to understand and hear. When I became a student athlete, I was advised to sit in the front two rows and that it would be better for me. Little did I realize how much more I would comprehend, how much better my scores would become, and how much less distracted I would be (and not be getting in trouble). For years, I thought it was me who was coming up short. I was working twice as hard in class because of where I was sitting.

Related: How Classroom Audio Helps Overcome Pandemic-Related Learning Loss

Benefits of Classroom Audio

While we tend to blame everything from hearing loss to behavior problems when a student struggles to pay attention or comprehend in class, there is a much easier to solve culprit hiding in plain sight. Students who struggle to hear in the classroom might suffer from comprehension problems that result in low grades, delayed speech or poorly developed language skills, low self-esteem, and social isolation.

Some research has pointed out that students miss as much as 30% of what is said in the classroom due to poor acoustics. Yet, sound equity doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. Let’s look at how students can benefit from supplemental audio in the classroom.

  • Increased Engagement
  • Learner Attention
  • Task-Time Efficiency
  • Lower Learner Stress Levels
  • Improved Classroom Behavior

Mainstream Classrooms

Regardless of the presence of a diagnosed learning disability, every classroom and every learner is susceptible to impairment from poor sound quality in the classroom. Every mainstream classroom struggles with maintaining the attention of a diverse group of students. Learners at different levels, behavior disruptions, and students who work at different speeds occur in every classroom.

Getting through daily lessons is a constant push-pull of balancing all of those challenges. However, classrooms that use audio support see an average of 10-30% improvement on individual test scores, and for teachers who embrace flexible learning spaces, audio solutions provide a unique approach to catering to different learning stations.

Special Education Classrooms

Special education classrooms cater to many different needs. While students with hearing loss may be part of a special education classroom, all learners can benefit from classroom audio tools. High-quality acoustic environments cater to students with processing sensitivities, speech development delays, and hearing loss by enhancing articulation.

ESL Classrooms

English as a second language (ESL) students are already dealing with an uphill battle as they learn a new language and adapt to instruction in their non-native language. Poor acoustics can setback learning in these classrooms, more so than mainstream classrooms. Audio support improves articulation and helps ESL students understand instruction better, keeping them on track.

Related: How Technology Helps Create More Flexible Classrooms

Two students working on assignments

Audio Technology and Inclusion

Technology is becoming deeper engrained in learning experiences. Systems that were once blanketed approaches are now being tailored to the needs of individual students. The flexibility that modern classroom technology offers gives us a real chance to create inclusive learning experiences without leaving many students behind.

This is good news for anyone teaching students at different levels or abilities. One of the biggest challenges is catering to ADHD students who struggle to focus on the task at hand. ADHD diagnoses are becoming incredibly common.

Teachers can benefit from microphones and speakers, which improve sound quality and make it easier to keep their attention. When combined with audio recording and lesson capturing software, teachers can create independent versions of every lesson to serve as remedial instruction for students who need a little more support.

This type of inclusion will also make it easier to include an increasing number of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students in mainstream classrooms. For many of these learners, the goal is to integrate them with success for everyday life. Technology tools that can facilitate ASD inclusion in meaningful ways are the next step towards helping them achieve independent futures.

Related: Social-Emotional Learning: Bridging the Gap with Technology

Audio Technology for Bringing Sound Equity to the Classroom

Classroom equity is a struggle for most students

Poor students, learners with disabilities, ESL learners, minorities, and otherwise privileged students all face struggles in learning. Struggles in the classroom look like poor behavior, outbursts, poor grades, apathy, failing to turn in assignments, and much more. In almost all cases, parents and teachers go after the symptoms and not the causes. But technology is making a big difference. Some of the best tech for teaching includes:

Microphone and Speaker Systems

Amplifying the sound of instruction so that learners in the back row can hear articulated speech without extra effort. Improving the sound of everyday instruction can boost engagement and increase test scores.

Recording and Screen Capturing Software

If you are speaking into a microphone for in-class participation, it is easy to make a recording. Integrated recording and screen capturing software make it easy to create lesson material for independent review. This type of content is great for students who miss class or who might need remedial review after class has ended.

Instant Feedback and Student Participation Systems

Technology provides new ways to engage with students and make learning enjoyable. Instead of calling on one student, everyone can chime in on every answer. The instant feedback that technology provides is also useful for teachers who need to quickly identify which students need more attention.

The Bottom Line on Technology and Sound Equity

Boredom and a buffet of distractions cause many learners to check out. As a result, their poor performance leads to low self-esteem and bad attitudes. This, in turn, becomes a problem for teachers who have to discipline disruptive behaviors. Many of the typical classroom challenges can be improved with the help of technology. While it isn’t the only solution, classroom audio can help make big strides in making learning more equitable by addressing the root cause of these issues.

FrontRow is a leading classroom audio technology provider. With seamless solutions for classrooms, schools, and virtual learning, there is something for everyone. Learn more today.