Good acoustical quality is critical for a classroom to function well for its intended principal purpose. In elementary school classrooms, most learning involves listening to the teacher and to each other (Goodland, 1983). Even quite modest amounts of background noise or reverberation (i.e., many delayed reflections of the original sound) can interfere with speech perception and, consequently, can impair educational outcomes. Speech intelligibility studies indicate that students' ability to recognize speech sounds is reduced for younger children. This problem is frequently not appreciated by adults, who are better able to recognize speech in the presence of noise. Research has shown that noise exposure affects educational outcomes, and provides evidence of mechanisms to explain the effects of noise on learning. Careful attention to acoustical design is essential for creating an effective learning environment.
Key Research Questions
1. What are the effects of noise on students?
2. What are the effects of noise and reverberation on speech perception? 3. What groups of children are considered more sensitive?
Recent Research Results
Effects of Noise on Students
Excessive noise can interfere with children's learning by affecting memory (Hygge, 2003) and acting as a distraction that impairs a student's ability to pay attention. The ability to pay attention is most important when students are engaged in tasks that demand higher mental processes, such as learning new concepts or when teachers are verbally presenting new or complex information (Hartman, 1946). (See also Anderson, 2004, for a review). In one of the most comprehensive and rigorous studies to date, Stansfeld et al. (2005) conducted a cross-national, cross-sectional study to assess the effect of exposure to aircraft and road traffic noise on cognitive performance (reading comprehension) and health in children. The study assessed 2,844 children ages 9 to 10 in 89 schools located in the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands in 2002. They found that chronic exposure to aircraft noise was associated with a significant impairment in reading comprehension and a 5-decibel difference in aircraft noise was equivalent to a 2-month reading delay in the United Kingdom and a 1-month delay in the Netherlands. This outcome is consistent with findings from other studies on the effects of aircraft noise on reading comprehension. Effects of Noise and Reverberation on Speech Perception
Speech perception studies have investigated how noise and reverberation influence the recognition of syllables, words, or sentences in classrooms. Kindergarten and first and second grades are the years in which children learn to break down written words into their phonetic components and acquire the ability to read. This requires careful listening to develop the ability to discriminate among minor differences in words such as pet, pit, pot, put, and pat (Anderson, 2004). New CLLRnet research has characterised age effects for children listening binaurally in real classrooms (Bradley and Sato, 2004). More Sensitive Groups
Although excessive noise and reverberation in classrooms is an issue for all children, there are several more sensitive groups for whom the problems are even more acute. These groups would include hearing-impaired listeners, second language learners, and children with learning difficulties. There are also many children who have varying degrees of fluctuating or temporary hearing impairment due to common medical problems such as ear infections and even the common cold. While these conditions prevail, younger children, who are already at a disadvantage, will find it even more difficult to understand speech in environments with unwanted noise or reverberation. Children with learning difficulties also experience greater difficulties understanding speech in noisy environments (Elliott et al., 1979; Bradlow et al., 2003) and require...
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