Enhance Hearing and Listening
By Dr. Pamela Millett,
Faculty of Education, York University
The ability to hear, listen and process auditory information effectively is crucial
to learning for all students, and particularly challenging for students with hearing
loss. Internal and external classroom noise levels are often high: classrooms
with many hard, reflective surfaces (like concrete block walls) and few soft,
noise-absorbing surfaces (like carpet) cause this noise to be reflected and
amplified. While technologies such as hearing aids and cochlear implants are
useful for students with hearing loss, addressing the problem of poor classroom
acoustics benefits not only these students, but also their classmates and teachers.
Even students with normal hearing can have difficulty listening effectively in
noisy classrooms. This is particularly true for students with temporary hearing
loss related to recurrent ear infections as well as those with auditory processing, language or learning disabilities. English language learners may also have
difficulty hearing in noisy classrooms. Teachers, too, may be adversely affected;
they must constantly project their voices during instruction, which may lead to
vocal strain. Finally, the “nonauditory” effects of noise should be considered.
The World Health Organization warns that the cardiovascular, mental health,
and physiological effects of noise represent a significant health risk.
Implementing initiatives based on the principles of universal design (UD) and
sound field amplification, then can make classrooms more conducive to hearing and listening for all.
Research Tells Us
● Children process auditory information
less quickly and less effectively than
do adults, and are more easily
● Noisy classrooms therefore create
hearing and listening challenges not
only for students who have formally
identified hearing losses but for all
students and their teachers as well.
● Sound field amplification is a universal
design initiative that can help make
classrooms more conducive to hearing
and listening for all.
● Benefits include improvements in
student engagement, classroom
behaviour and academic achievement
as well as decreases in teacher vocal
fatigue and sick time.
Research into Practice
A research-into-practice series produced by a partnership between the Literacy and
Numeracy Secretariat and the Ontario Association of Deans of Education