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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Can You Hear Me Now?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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I have recently gained a new appreciation for classroom sound amplification. What do I mean by this? I am talking about having the teacher and classroom wired for sound so that every student in the class can hear the teacher clearly wherever the teacher goes in the class. Even a simple microphone and a speaker will improve student learning, comprehension, and behavior. It also helps the teacher remain calm and in control.

For some of you, wiring a classroom for sound amplification may seem like overkill -- or even unnecessary -- because of the "teacher voice" that teachers develop over the years. I was one of those teachers that thought I did not need my voice amplified until I moved to a classroom that was wired for sound, albeit old infrared technology, but it works. Since I began using the sound system in my daily instruction, I have seen a change in the student behavior and in my behavior, and I am now a firm believer in enhancing a teacher's voice.

The educational researchers who wrote, Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, state that 80 percent of what teacher's do is ask questions; so it's critical that all the students hear the questions.

Amplifying Your Voice

A simple law of physics that we do not realize as teachers is that the further away a student is from the teacher, the less the student hears. Add to this fact the reality that classrooms are inherently noisy -- especially if you have the "easy to clean and maintain" tile floors -- due to ambient noises, such as air conditioning, computer fans, buzzing florescent lights, hallway noises, and vehicle noises from outside. Let's not forget the inescapable people noises of scratching, shuffling, crumpling, talking, and tapping.

I wear an infrared microphone that picks up my voice and amplifies it to speakers in the ceiling. I can walk around the whole classroom and be confident that the students on the other side of the room can still hear me. Students hear the instructions clearly and do not have to ask their peers what was said. I have seen an increase in student recall and performance simply because of students being able to hear better.

Clear Directions

In regards to comprehension, students must be taught to fluently converse in the subject. First, teachers model the correct speech patterns and vocabulary used in the subject area. There is usually a silent period where students will be observing and practicing recognition, but incrementally, teachers entice students to begin using the new language they are learning, whether it is science, math, or art history.

It is crucial that students be able to comprehend the vocabulary modeled by the teacher so that they can then mimic the pronunciation, tonality, and inflections used. As a foreign language teacher, I have seen that amplifying my voice is incredibly effective at helping students be able to isolate and differentiate words and be able to repeat them back. When I query for recognition -- because they hear me clearly -- they are more apt to respond appropriately, even if I am not standing right by them.

A Calm Tone

Finally, voice amplification is a blessing to teachers and students in perhaps an unexpected way. Without a microphone, I notice that as student and classroom noise increases, so does my voice level. Unfortunately, when I raise my voice to match the noise, my tone is one of frustration at times. The first thing I noticed about wearing a voice amplifier was that I could talk in normal tones, with a pleasant, encouraging voice. I didn't have to raise my voice in order to get their attention.

On the rare occasion, when I urgently need to get student attention, I can raise the microphone to my mouth, and I can speak calmly with a thunderous voice. With the microphone, I notice that I have more patience, and because students hear instructions clearly, they can be more productive and do not need to be redirected as often.

It's great not going home hoarse having worn out my voice in school. With voice amplification, I can be calm and speak to the students in a normal and kind tone of voice and still demand student attention. I can't imagine going back to teaching without a microphone. What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments section below.

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

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Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Just want to add a caveat. I was talking to a pre-service teacher who did an observation of a fifth grade teacher. The fifth grade teacher had very poor classroom management skills. So, she put on her headset and then, she'd yell through that. It might help some kids hear, but these amplification systems which do help some students are no replacement for great classroom management. That is the one element I hope that schools will realize -- this does not solve a poor classroom management. Kids yelling and teachers using a mic to yell over them is just a really poor learning situation. That said, this can help kids who have trouble hearing.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Vicki:
You are absolutely right. Teachers have all sorts of tools to help them teach, to increase learning, and to basically make it easier for them, but technology, curriculum, or even sound amplification cannot replace good teaching skills including good classroom management.

Ben Johnson
Tyler, Texas

Cydnei Henry's picture

Helo Mr. Johnson, I enjoyed reading your article about the use of the microphone in your classroom. I came across your article for a Teaching with Technology course that I have. Apart of my assignment is to email you, but it is hard for my to find your email since your name is very common. If there is any other way I can contact you, please let me know.

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