George Lucas Educational Foundation
Learning Environments

Shhh... Listen... Ambient Noise in the Classroom

August 31, 2015 Updated August 30, 2015

After 21 years in education, I’ve finally come to the point in my career where I can confess that I love the idea of creating working noise in my classroom, intentionally. For the other years, I was trained that a quiet classroom was a good classroom and early on I bought that idea hook, line and sinker. It wasn't until I had passed those magical first 5 years that I started to question the idea, mainly because it always seemed to fall short. I love to talk when I’m learning and when I’m around friends, so why wouldn't my students. Still, I felt as though I would be judged by others whose classroom seemed to be quiet and on task.

Please know, I’m a big believer in music associated with learning, so my classroom hasn't been a place where students go when they want to take a vow of silence, but it was mainly music that’s filled the air. So I stepped forward into this year, with all the ambient noise I could muster. I wanted to fill my classroom with background noise for learning. The ideal picture in my head was filled with highly productive students, living up to every ounce of their potential with the ambient noise lead them to that learning space. (Ultimately, I knew this wasn't’t going to be the reality of this change, but could you imagine if it was? #Awesomesauce!) 

Here is what I have documented after five weeks (I teach at a year-round school): For the first few weeks, we did not use ambient noise, then we added ambient noise for the following weeks. During the time with the ambient noise, there was a measurable change in the type of classroom sounds happening. Prouctivity and focus seemed better with a larger number of students. 

Have I suddenly discovered that ambient noise is magic in a bottle? That it will elevate public education to lead the world in test scores? No. Did it help to create a different culture in my classroom where the feeling of peace and calm energy was more the norm than in prior weeks? Yes. Were there many variables? Completely!

While my small sample is not conclusive by any means, I do like the idea of examining all the ways we address all student senses and for creating a better learning environment. I believe the phrase whole child, needs to also included the senses along with other important factors. After all, doesn't a sound or smell trigger memory as much as something visual?

My next classroom environment idea starts with the sense of smell and the guiding question of “Could essential oils diffused into the air of my classroom have a positive impact on student learning?" Being someone with allergies, this will be one the first things I check on for each student.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

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