• Joanne Jacobs

It's too noisy for kids to learn



It must be 45 years ago that I visited my first classroom as a reporter. I was shocked at the change from my school days. Students got up from the desks and wandered around, he teacher buzzed from one group of students to the next, everybody was talking and nobody was listening.


It's hard for students to focus on learning in noisy classrooms, writes Natalie Wexler in Forbes. The average elementary classroom is a hub of activity, distraction and noise. Teachers are told that students who are talking are learning.


Masking made it harder for children to hear, not only muffling the speaker's voice but also removing visual cues.

Studies have shown that background noise can reduce efficiency and lower test scores for adolescents. And younger students may suffer more. Background noise can interfere with their ability to hear the individual sounds in words, a key skill in learning to read.
Studies going back to the early 1990s, for example, have found that children in classrooms near airports and noisy train lines have a higher incidence of reading difficulties.

Starting in the 1960s, schools were built without walls, recalls Wexler, but the“open classroom” proved to be unworkable. (Teachers hated it.)


While that's gone, many elementary teachers organize instruction around multiple “small groups,” especially for reading, writes Wexler. The groups rotate every 20 or 30 minutes with "each group taking a turn working directly with the teacher. The other groups are given worksheets or digital devices . . . "


Reading expert Timothy Shanahan questions the effectiveness of small-group instruction, writes Wexler. Any benefits are canceled out by the fact that kids will be "learning — or supposedly learning — on their own" for most of the "reading block," she writes. "From what I’ve observed in multiple classrooms, most activities kids are asked to do at reading 'centers' are of dubious value, and often children aren’t even actually doing them."

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