At Simi Valley Unified School District, we’re committed to ensuring that every learner feels welcomed and can access the resources they need to be successful. This commitment is what inspires us to find new, impactful ways to support our student population.
So, when we realized that our deaf and hard-of-hearing population at Mountain View Elementary needed more support, we sought a solution. This came in the form of an instructional audio system.
We were hopeful the system would ease some of the struggles our students were experiencing. The result was even better than expected: a district-wide change that not only improved the classroom experience for our hard-of-hearing students but changed the classroom experience for all of our students and teachers.
Making the case for instructional audio
Studies over the past four decades have underscored the crucial link between being able to hear clearly and learning.
In the Handbook of Acoustic Accessibility, Joseph Smaldino, PhD., and Carol Flexer, PhD., explain that as the level of noise in a room increases, children may lose the ability to multitask or perform effortful learning activities.
This became especially clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our schools adapted safety protocols such as face masks, social distancing and remote learning to keep students and staff safe.
Pandemic-related changes presented new challenges for schools and districts. Though necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, face masks muffle sound — increasing the difficulty for teachers to relay information and for students to hear it.
Challenges like these are what prompted us to accelerate our plan to implement instructional audio in every classroom across Simi Valley. We knew that instructional audio was effective, and by introducing the technology across the district, we could better support all of our teachers and students. Federal pandemic relief dollars helped fund the district-wide rollout.
Improving learning for all
In addition to improving speech perception, instructional audio has been shown to improve learning and social behaviors in students, including increased communication with peers and teachers.
Conducted and certified by the US Department of Education, the Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study determined that a variety of student groups benefit from instructional audio, including:
- Students with hearing loss
- Children younger than age 15
- Students sitting in the back of the classroom
- Students struggling academically
- Students in a noisy classroom environment
- Students in a team-teaching environment
- Students with a soft-spoken teacher
- Students with learning differences
- English learners
Clear sound is especially important for students with auditory processing disorders and attention issues — and can help avoid unnecessary referrals. The MARRS study revealed that the number of students referred to special education in grades K-6 decreased by 43% in amplified classes — for students with and without hearing impairment.
Other studies have identified associations between use of instructional audio systems and educational achievement, including literacy, reading fluency, listening comprehension and reading vocabulary.
We’re experiencing these effects first-hand. We soon realized that instructional audio could benefit every learner, not just those with hearing loss.
The need for instructional audio doesn’t stop with students, however.
In Visible Learning for Teachers, it’s revealed that teachers talk for 70-80% of class time, on average. But, teachers who use instructional audio systems report ease of speaking and greater vocal endurance — as well as decreased fatigue, and greater voice clarity. This has certainly been the case in our own district. Some of our more soft-spoken teachers have reported increased energy because they are no longer straining their voice to be heard.
Teachers at Mountain View led the charge during our search for an instructional audio solution. Providing ample time for research was important to us, since these were the staff members who would be using the technology in their classrooms every day.
Ultimately, our district decided to implement Lightspeed’s Instructional Audio System. Even our teachers who aren’t as tech-savvy feel comfortable fully leveraging it in the classroom. They see that when students have equitable access to sound, they can catch on to more than just what their teacher is saying — they’re also able to capture the instructor’s tone and intonation.
Investing today benefits learners tomorrow
Clear communication between teachers and students has never been more pressing. As we reimagine what education looks, feels, and sounds like, it’s critical that we consider what changes we can make today to benefit students and teachers tomorrow.
At Simi Valley, instructional audio is making a hugely positive impact in the lives of teachers and students. We’ve cultivated an environment where every learner can hear every word — a goal other districts can achieve.
With pandemic relief funding available to support the reopening of schools, we suggest that school and district leaders consider including instructional audio into their plans — it has the potential to become one of your most essential tools.
Jennifer Goldman is the principal of Mountain View Elementary School in Simi Valley, Calif.. Sean Goldman is the assistant superintendent of student support services for Simi Valley Unified School District.
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