Noise Pollution and the Classroom Environment
Posted on: 12/4/2008
Excessive sound levels in the classroom have become an issue of increasing concern to the educational community in recent years. Research has shown that noise levels in the majority of classrooms are too high. This noise pollution has been found to negatively impact students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to do their jobs.
Under new U.S. Guidelines, classrooms need to keep noise levels below 35dB. Studies have shown that most classrooms in the U.S. have a sound level of 45dB or greater. What is the practical effect of these heightened classroom auditory environments?
- A University of Kansas analysis found that the speech intelligibility ratingin most U.S. schools is 75 percent or less, meaning listeners with normal hearing can only understand 75% of spoken words. Students primarily learn through listening. They need a learning environment in which they can fully hear and understand the teacher's instructions. Children are also more sensitive to heightened noise as adults’ larger vocabulary helps them mentally compensate when they can’t hear clearly.
- One study compared the reading scores of children attending classes facing a noisy elevated train with the scores of children attending classes on the quiet side of the same building. By the 6th grade, the children on the noisy side were nearly a year behind the students on the quiet side. Several years later, after noise-absorbing materials were installed in the ceilings of the classes facing the train tracks and the Transit Authority installed resilient-rubber pads on the adjacent tracks, the reading scores of the students on both sides of the building were examined and both sets of children were then reading at the same level.
Noise levels are clearly an important consideration when designing an effective classroom environment. Good acoustical design seeks to minimize noise while enhancing the sound transmission between teacher and students. Noise is addressed differently depending on whether it’s external or internal to the classroom.
- Internal sources of noise include fans, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, occupants or furniture being dragged across a hard surface floor.
- Some internal solutions include using hypo-allergenic carpeting and curtains, replacing ballasts from noisy fluorescent light fixtures, reducing noise from heating/cooling and ventilation systems, using suspended acoustic ceiling tiles, placing sound-absorbent panels on upper walls and moving free-standing furnishings to break up sound reflections and isolate areas in large rooms, plus adding cork boards to walls.
- External noise sources may include: adjacent heating and cooling systems, adjacent hallways and school rooms, school construction or remodeling, roadways, trains, and airplanes.
- External solutions need to acknowledge that many schools are located near noisy highways, railroads, and airports. Principals are seen as the advocates to reduce these external sources of noise pollution by, for example, inquiring into the availability of city, state or federal funds for noise abatement if their schools are situated too close to a highway, railway or airport.
Teachers’ health and effectiveness in the classroom is also affected by excessive classroom noise. Speech-language pathologists in Canada have reported that under poor acoustic conditions teachers adjust their speech in ways that contribute to voice strain. Canadian studies have demonstrated that teachers are over-represented in voice clinics compared to population statistics, comprising up to 25% of total voice clinic caseloads.
Previously, experts had recommended the use of sound-amplification systems in the classroom. However, the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has issued a policy statement that advises schools not to use sound-amplification systems in their efforts to overcome noisy conditions in classrooms. "The best way to improve classroom acoustics is through the proper design and renovation of classrooms,” said ASA President William Yost, PhD. “Using sound amplification in an attempt to overcome poor classroom acoustics only makes the situation worse. There should be less sound in the classroom, not more.”
Source: quietclassrooms.org; “Many Classrooms Have Bad Acoustics That Inhibit Learning,” Science Daily; “Noisy Classroom? Avoid Sound-amplification Systems, Acoustical Society Says,” Science Daily; “Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists Warn Of Learning Problems Associated With Noise,” Medical News Today.
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