Noisy classrooms interfere with learning

Photo credit: Arthur Krijgsman

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Elementary Classrooms Are Too Noisy for Kids to Learn,” was not surprising to me because my study demonstrating elevated train noise impaired reading scores of children in classrooms in a school adjacent to the tracks was published in 1975. After the Transit Authority employed a method to abate the transit noise and the Board of Education installed acoustical tiles in the ceilings in the classrooms near the tracks, the noise was reduced and the reading scores improved.

I followed up these studies with several articles on the impacts of both internal and external noises on classroom learning, citing studies demonstrating the adverse effects of aircraft noise on classroom learning in schools near airports. The Federal Aviation Administration spent several hundred million dollars to abate noise in schools near airports as Wexler notes in her writing.

Wexler also comments on classroom teaching methods involving small group instruction and individualized attention from the teacher and raises the question as to whether these methods are better than the one where the teacher addresses the entire class. She concludes by saying that there is room for small-group instruction but there is still the need for the teacher to read to the whole class on “meaty topics” and that this should be followed by “thoughtful discussion.”

Wexler ends her article by saying that children should be given “classrooms that are actually conducive to learning.” I agree and note that actions have been taken to reduce classroom noises. The City of New York’s Transit Authority and the City’s Board of Education took action when my study found that children’s classroom learning was impaired by external noise sources–and that was over 40 years ago. The Federal Aviation Administration also attempted to reduce the impact of aircraft noise with its noise abatement program at schools near airports. But on a broader scale, the Acoustical Society of America has developed acoustical standards for classrooms that facilitate learning. I suggest that readers learn more about these standards, especially if they are aware of noisy classrooms.

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