Classroom Acoustics

A student's ability to hear and understand what is being said in the classroom is vital for learning. Unfortunately, this ability can be reduced in a noisy classroom. Poor classroom acoustics occur when the background noise and/or the amount of reverberation in the classroom are so high that they interfere with learning and teaching. We know that when classroom acoustics are poor then it can affect

  • speech understanding
  • reading and spelling ability
  • behavior in the classroom
  • attention
  • concentration
  • academic achievement

What is background noise and reverberation?

Background noise is any unwanted sound that interferes with what you want to hear. Background noise in a classroom can come from many sources such as traffic, lawnmowers, children on the playground or in the hallway, heating or air conditioning units, audiovisual equipment, or other students.

Reverberation refers to the phenomenon of sound continuing to be present in a room because of sound reflecting off of surfaces such as desks or chairs. When sound lingers in a room there is more interference with speech. In a classroom it is important to have a short reverberation time.

Who is affected by poor classroom acoustics?

All children are affected by poor classroom acoustics, but it can be a particular problem for children with the following problems:

  • hearing loss, including children with a hearing loss in one ear (unilateral hearing loss)
  • temporary hearing loss in one or both ears (ear infection or build up of middle ear fluid)
  • learning disabilities
  • auditory processing disorders
  • speakers of another language
  • speech and language delay
  • attention problems

Poor classroom acoustics can also affect the teacher. It is estimated that teachers use their voices for approximately 60% of their workday. The strain on the voice gets worse when the teacher has to talk louder to overcome poor classroom acoustics. Studies have shown that teachers are 32 times more likely to have voice problems compared to similar occupations.

Creating an environment where good communication can take place should be a goal for any classroom or learning space. Communication breaks down when the classroom acoustics are poor. Reducing noise and reverberation in any space used for learning, such as community buildings, home-based classrooms, and classrooms in places of worship, is important.

To learn about improving the acoustics in your classroom see Tips for Creating a Good Listening Environment.

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