May 29, 2001 Features

Let the Word Be Heard: Be an Advocate for Good Classroom Acoustics

In this decade, thousands of aging schools will be renovated or replaced, and audiologists and speech-language pathologists across the country are advocating for good acoustics to improve listening. ASHA developed a position statement on acoustics in educational settings in 1995, and a national standard under development by a working group of the Acoustical Society of America is expected this year (for more about the proposed standard, see An Update on Classroom Acoustics).

Turning Classroom Acoustics Research into Action

Many classrooms in the United States are noisy. A U.S. Government Accounting Office report on the state of our nation' s classrooms found that 28% of respondents from a school survey of 10,000 rated "acoustics for noise control" as the primary environmental problem in their schools. Those schools recognized the need. Many others don' t. Are your local classrooms quiet enough to support learning?

We all live in a school district, our children and grandchildren are students, and some of us work there. Some of us provide voice treatment to teachers with vocal abuse. Some of our patients are students with hearing loss whose learning is compromised by noisy or highly reverberant spaces. All of us are lifelong learners who benefit from good acoustics, especially adults with hearing loss and low vision. For students of any age with hearing loss, the technology of hearing aids, FM systems, cochlear implants, and sound field amplification is most effective in a quiet environment.

Research tells us that many students are harmed by bad acoustics: students with learning disabilities, with delayed development, those under age 15 with immature speech and language, students for whom English is a second language, children with periodic otitis media causing variable hearing, those with central auditory processing difficulty or other speech and language disorders, children with chronic illness, and students with emotional and behavioral difficulties. All of these students listen, learn, and function less well in poor acoustic environments.

Where Do You Start to Quiet Your Schools?

Clear communication is an access issue for everyone. And who better than SLPs and audiologists to advocate for good classroom acoustics so that accurate listening is accessible? We value human communication—talking and listening—and we can clearly communicate the needs of students and staff and suggest expert resources for solutions.

You don't have to be an acoustical engineer, but you can become familiar with the basic acoustic design concepts (see Resources), promote basic noise control, and help find experts. The large quantity of research data documenting impaired learning in poor acoustics needs to be known, believed—and acted on.

Nothing will happen in your school district until the concept of creating good classroom acoustics is valued. Help make it a top priority for communication disorders specialists, parents, teaching staff, administrators, school boards, designers, community members, and policymakers.

How Can You Help Make It Happen?

  • Become as knowledgeable as you can on the subject. To get started, see the resources on page 20.
  • Gain access to a good sound level meter that can measure down to 35 dBA, and survey some unoccupied classrooms to document the problem.
  • Assess how many students and staff with disabilities could benefit from improved acoustics in your school and district.
  • Form an advocacy group that includes all these people.
  • Present the need and rationale for good classroom acoustics again and again to those who can make it happen.
  • Remind others that everyone benefits from good acoustics.

Do You Have to Do This Alone?

Advocacy is always more successful when a large, diverse group proposes change. Educational audiologists know it' s hard to advocate for a single student with hearing loss in a school. But when that audiologist joins forces with others in the school who need good acoustics, the task becomes easier. Talk with the PTA, school board, teacher unions, and special education professionals. Parents are a powerful group and, once aware of the value of good classroom acoustics, they will probably support it.

Ask for help from your local, state, and national professional organizations. The local chapters of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., as well as other disability advocacy groups may support these initiatives. Members of the local Acoustical Society are knowledgeable and eager to provide technical assistance to help achieve your goals.

SLPs and audiologists can work together. Our colleagues in academic, private practice, clinical, rehabilitation, medical, and educational settings can form a special interest group in the community or state. Create programs at your local, state, and national association meetings.

Solving problems caused by poor classroom acoustics can take time. But if we don't solve the problem soon, we'll be part of a generation that allowed poor classroom acoustics to continue. The education of our children, grandchildren, and clients will suffer. The modest cost of providing good acoustics is more than paid back by a better educated society.

We, as audiologists and SLPs, by engaging and succeeding in this venture, will have defined another facet of our professional selves more clearly. We' ll become more visible within our communities as caring, knowledgeable professionals. We' ll develop liaisons within our profession, and with allied professionals, parents, and policymakers. And once more, we' ll have affirmed our goal to create good human communication. Let the word be heard!

Anne E. Seltz, an ASHA Fellow, is an active member of the working group S-12, Acoustical Society of America, which is developing a Classroom Acoustic Standard. As a clinical audiologist, she counsels her clients about managing their acoustic environments. Contact her by email at anneseltz@aol.com.

cite as: Seltz, A. E. (2001, May 29). Let the Word Be Heard: Be an Advocate for Good Classroom Acoustics. The ASHA Leader.

How Can We Quiet Our Schools?

Good acoustics are most cost-effective when integral to building design, although renovations can help improve classroom acoustics. Here are some solutions to five common sources of bad acoustics in schools:

  • Noise from outside—street traffic, airplanes—that enters the building. Solution: Locate the school site in a quiet area and provide noise isolation for the building shell.
  • Noise made by building systems: HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning). Solution: Ask schools to apply noise control techniques to new and existing HVAC systems, such as centralized, ducted AC.
  • Noise coming into a room from hallways and adjacent spaces. Solution: Insist on doors and walls that isolate sound and make sure they are properly installed. Keep doors closed.
  • Noise from inside the classroom: audiovisual equipment, computers, fish tanks, people. Solution: Support teacher control and use of quiet equipment.
  • Reverberation (echo) from low acoustic absorption in the room. Solution: Ask for durable acoustic absorption for part of the classroom ceilings and walls; use sound-absorbing products with high ratings.


Resources

Learn more about classroom acoustics and how to advocate for quieter classrooms with these print and Web resources:

  • Improving Acoustics in American Schools. (Clinical Forum, 2000). Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 31(4), 354 393. Earn 0.3 ASHA CEUs through October 2003. Reprints available from Product Sales at 888-498-6699. Item #0112336. $55 for members; $70 for nonmembers.
  • Working for Change: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Schools is a self-study packet that offers strategies on how to negotiate with school unions/associations and school administrators to advocate for identified individual and local needs. Members can call the ASHA Action Center at 800-498-2071 to request a free copy. Nonmembers can call Product Sales at 888-498-6699 to order the packet for $9 (Item #0804088).
  • M-Power Box: The Power of One provides tools to self-advocate and successfully confront key professional issues in school settings. Public Schools Item #0112167. $15 for ASHA members; $22 for nonmembers. Call ASHA Product Sales at 888-498-6699.
  • Crandell, C., & Smaldino, J. (2000). Room acoustics for listeners with normal hearing and hearing impairment. In Valente, M., Roeser, R., Hosford-Dunn, H. (Eds.), Audiology Treatment (pp. 601 637). New York: Thieme Medical Publishers.
  • Crandell, C. & Smaldino, J. Classroom acoustics: Understanding barriers to learning. The Volta Review, 101(5). Special issue on classroom acoustics.
  • Crandell, C., Smaldino, J., & Flexer, C. (1995). Sound-field FM amplifications: Theory and practical applications. San Diego: Singular Publishing Company.
  • U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (or Access Board) 
  • National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, an annotated list of links, books, and journal articles
  • Acoustical Society of America (2000). Classroom acoustics: A resource for creating learning environments with desirable listening conditions. ASA: Melville, NY.  
  • The Hearing Impaired Child in the Jewish Classroom


  

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