Tips for teachers setting up a classroom for a child with a hearing impairment

16 January 2018

If you are a teacher who is going to have a child who is hearing impaired in your classroom this year, then this post is for you. Or if you a parent of a child with a hearing impairment you might want to point your child’s teacher towards this post as they set up their classroom for the year.

Would you believe that research has shown that 16% of children in a classroom have a hearing impairment, including 1 in 8 that have middle ear pathology?

How a classroom is set up can greatly influence a child’s ability to learn. The right set up can maximise learning potential, whereas a poor environment can be detrimental to speech perception, cognition and concentration (1).

Here are the top tips for creating a classroom which is optimised for a child with hearing loss to learn.

Children facing their teacher

Closed classroom

Open plan classrooms are one of the worst environments for children with a hearing loss. To be able to learn children need to be able to discriminate speech from general classroom noise (2). In a normal closed classroom this can be hard for a child with hearing loss, but in an open plan classroom it becomes even more difficult.

Open plan classrooms receive noise from multiple classes so the ability for children to discriminate the sounds they need in order to learn become very hard.

Improve classroom acoustics

A child’s ability to hear and understand what is being said in the classroom is vital to their learning. Unfortunately, this ability can be reduced in a noisy classroom. When classroom acoustics are poor it can affect:

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

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.

To improve a classroom, acoustically, we must ascertain what is meant by background noise that is too high and high reverberation.

What is background noise and reverberation?

Simply put, background noise is any unwanted sound that interferes with what a child needs to hear.

Background noise in a classroom can come from many sources such as traffic, lawnmowers, children in the playground or in the hallway, heating or air conditioning units, audio-visual equipment or other students in the classroom. In fact, the average noise level in classroom is 65 dB.

Reverberation refers to the phenomenon of sound continuing to be present in a room because of sound reflecting off 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.

Creating an environment where good communication can take place is important. Communication breaks down when the classroom acoustics are poor. Efforts should be made to reduce background noise and reverberation in the classroom.

To improve reverberation and background noise try introducing as many of the following as practical (3):  

  • place rugs or carpet in the room if there none
  • hang window treatments such as curtains or blinds
  • hang soft materials (e.g. felt or cork board) on the walls.
  • place tables at an angle around the room to interfere with the pathways of sound
  • hang soft materials such as flags or student artwork around the room and from the ceiling
  • turn off noisy equipment when it’s not being used
  • keep windows and doors closed as much as possible
  • replace noisy light fixtures
  • talk to the students about noise and demonstrate how it can be difficult to hear when many children are talking at the same time
  • avoid dividing the class into groups where each is undertaking a different listening task (e.g. one watching TV, one listening to the teacher)
  • place soft tips on the bottoms of chairs and tables

Create an optimal SNR

SNR stands for signal-to-noise ratio and compares the loudness of the desired sounds (the teachers voice in the classroom setting) and the loudness of background noise. As SNR decreases the audibility of the teachers’ voice becomes less.

SNR is measured in decibels (dB) and the optimal value is 15dB. At this level the teacher’s voice can is 100% audibility. However, at 0dB SNR the teacher’ voice is only 50% audibility; this is actually the level of most classrooms (5)!

Crandell and Smaldino (5) noted that at 0 dB SNR and with reverberation of 1.2 seconds children recognised less than 30% of the sound presented to them. By increasing this to a 6dB SNR and a reverberation time of just 0.4 seconds the recognition of the sounds increased to over 70%. As you can see the need to create a good SNR is vitally important in the classroom to optimise learning.

So, how do you create a classroom with a good SNR?

Sounfield Juno

A Soundfield system can be installed in the classroom. This provides a consistent loudness to the teacher’s voice throughout the classroom, removes problems of distance (we’re coming to that in a second) and improves the room SNR.

It is also recommended that children with a hearing loss use a personal FM system. The personal FM comes in two parts, one part attached to the hearing technology (receiver) and the second part is worn by the teacher (microphone). The personal FM allows the teachers voice to be directly inputted into the hearing device, remove any issues around SNR and reverberation.

Sitting at the front

Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) research showed that children seated at the back of a classroom were more likely to misperceive or completely miss important new concepts when the noise level was over 50dB. Therefore, one of the simplest things that can be done in the classroom is making sure that a child is sitting as close to the teacher, at the front, as possible.

By using these tips you can not only set up a classroom for optimal learning, but also help alleviate learning issues for children with a hearing loss in your classroom.

If you would like more information on Soundfield products you can contact the Centre.

 

REFERENCES

1. Shield, B. M., Greenland, E. E., & Dockrell, J. E. (2010). Noise in open plan classrooms in primary schools: A review. Noise and Health, 12(49), 225–234.
2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). Acoustics in Educational Settings: Technical Report. doi:10.1044/policy.TR2005-00042
3. Rosenberg, G., Blake-Rahter, P., Heavner, J., Allen, L., Redmond, B., Phillips, J., & Stigers, K. (1999). Improving classroom acoustics (ICA): A three year FM sound-field classroom amplification study. Journal of Educational Audiology, 7, 8–28.
4. Adapted from http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Classroom-Acoustics/
5. Crandell, Carl. C. & Smaldino, Joseph, J. (2000) Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, October 2000, Vol. 31, 362-370. doi:10.1044/0161-1461.3104.362 History: Received September 27, 1999


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