A Dynamic & Important Element When Teaching The Hearing Impaired.
There are two other factors that complicate how children perceive verbal instruction in the classroom. Those factors are their distance from the teacher and changes in the loudness of the teacher’s voice during the day. Total communication, along with good eye contact is always expected among teacher and student.
Parents and teachers can easily notice that if a child with hearing loss is at some distance, he or she will be less likely to respond to speech, especially if noise is present from a busy fast-food resaurant or other noisy setting.
Teachers typically move throughout the classroom as they teach and provide instructions. It’s so important that children communicating and interacting with their instructor is an ongoing task. Therefore, they may be close to the student sometimes and far away at other times.
Also, teachers change the loudness of their voice throughout the day in response to background noise level, emotional intensity and fatigue.
As a result, the loudness of the teacher’s speech relative to the noise (S/N), is constantly varying even if the child is always seated at the front of the classroom.
Classroom acoustics can affect teacher voices and student listening. The constantly varying S/N is the reason why merely seating the child close to the teacher will be inadequate to meet the child’s speech perception needs in a typical classroom setting. Preferential seating is not enough!
The relationship between the S/N and the distance from the teacher is illustrated in the chart. The level of background (ambient) noise in an occupied classroom can be 60 dB.
If you will remember, the typical vocal loudness of the teacher is also 60 dB sound pressure level (SPL). Both the loudness of the teacher’s voice and the background noise vary continuously resulting in periods in which the S/N may be relatively favorable (i.e., +10 S/N) to unfavorable (i.e., -6 S/N).
Most classrooms have background noise levels that result in a range of S/N occurring from -6 dB to +10 dB. Changes in S/N vary from moment to moment throughout the day.
Even children seated close to the front row may be 6 to 12 feet from the teacher as she moves about the front of the room. In order for the entire speech signal to be above the background noise, the S/N must be +15 dB (this assumes no benefit from early reflected sound).
Children with hearing loss, because they typically don’t perceive speech as loudly or as completely as people with normal hearing, require a S/N even greater than +15 dB if they’re to truly have equal access to verbal instruction.
The loudness of the teacher’s voice is also an important factor that needs to be taken into account when considering S/N.
Some teachers speak loudly, others have quieter voices. Classrooms with inappropriate levels of background noise require a teacher to raise the loudness of her voice for hours each day.
Reducing background noise in a classroom to an appropriate level is an obvious way to try to achieve a +15 S/N.
For children with hearing loss, the S/N level present in a classroom will be both inconsistent and insufficient to meet the listening needs of the child with hearing loss.
Addressing 12 Challenges or Barriers When Listening to Learn
- Hearing loss causes a reduced “listening bubble” that is improved by hearing aids or cochlear implants, but normal hearing is not restored.
- Child misses some of the communication naturally occuring in their evironment but beyond their “listening bubble.”
- The resulting gaps in language or world knowledge may be minimal to substantial.
- Speech may be perceived with some sounds missing (i.e. high frequency consonants).
- Hearing aids or cochlear implants deliver speech at a quieter loudness than what is typically heard by persons with normal hearing.
- Ability to attend to verbal instruction varies over time with auditory and visual distractions, level of fatigue and interest.
- When the speech puzzle is incomplete and smeared, the high pitch rapid speech of classmates can be incompletely heard and peer relationships may be affected.
- Teacher vocal loudness, distance, and background noise change continuously.
- Accoustic energy of speech decreases the farther away the child is from the teacher.
- Background noise covers up quieter parts of speech.
- Reverberation affects clarity of the perception of speech by smearing sounds, adding noise due to prolonged sound reflections and shortening the critical distance for listening.
- When more effort is needed to perceive speech less energy is available to meaningfully comprehend what has been said and achievement is affected.
As previously described, there are many challenges or barriers to listening that often occur for the child with hearing loss who is listening to learn in a typical classroom.
Children are amazingly resilient and adaptable. Learning does occur for children with hearing loss, especially when the educational system accommodates the child’s difficulties perceiving verbal communication in the classroom. We can address barriers to learning.
Teachers can become aware of the effects of the day-to-day challenges to each child’s ability to learn in a typical educational environment.
Addressing Challenges in the Learning Environment
All professionals who have the responsibility to educate children with hearing loss should recognize that hearing impaired kids have challenges in the learning environment that are barriers to their equal access to instruction and academic success.
As has been mentioned, all children in the classroom have the challenge of listening in order to comprehend information presented verbally while in the presence of inappropriate levels of background noise or reverberation.
Listening is a primary gateway to learning and although we cannot expect the millions of classrooms across the country to provide ideal acoustic conditions, we can acknowlege that inadquate classroom acoustics provide a clearly identifiable learning barrier.
Educational environments that have inadequate acoustic conditions can cause irreparable erosion of achievement for children with hearing loss by preventing them from optimally accessing verbal instruction.
The ability to achieve in the classroom is related directly to the ability to access verbal instruction.
Therefore, Classroom acoustics is a vital consideration when determining the need for accommodations and specialized instuction that a student with hearing loss will need for success.
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