You're NOT Loud Enough

Posted by Monica Weick on 2/28/2022

Imagine you’re trying to have a conversation with the person next to you, but all you can hear is the live music in the restaurant or the shows squeaking, and the ball banging on the floor, and shouting in the gym during a middle school basketball game. How do you feel? Do you understand everything you’re listening to?Do you feel like you’re guessing what others are saying? For many, it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation without yelling and guessing what is being said. This is due to the noise to sound ratio. How loud is the background compared to how loud the person is speaking? 

For different people, a different ratio is needed and there are tests and assessments that can be used to determine those needs. However, it doesn’t need to be as extreme as a basketball game, with the buzzers, whistles, and squeaking shoes or a concert’s blaring speakers to impact our ability to hear those around us. Instead, it can be as simple as a fan blowing, music playing softly in the background, or someone talking on the other side of the room. Those “small” changes can make or break someone’s ability to hear and comprehend what is being said. 

In the classroom, noise is inevitable: students whispering, a teacher talking to a small group, laughing, noise from a chromebook, the heater blowing air,  or even the scraping of chairs (in the nicest scenario). These sounds make it difficult for teachers to hear students and for students to hear teachers. If we add things like music, an extra fan on a hot day or to dry out the floor after a pipe bursts, or trying to talk over students, it becomes nearly impossible to fully and efficiently access the information so critical to the day's lesson or even that conversation, especially for those with processing concerns, hearing loss, sensory processing, or if neurodivergent. It doesn’t matter how loud or the volume of your voice, you’re just not loud enough. The louder we talk (or yell) the more distorted the sound becomes (think about talking with Grandma or Great Uncle Pete). 

Having an appropriate signal to noise ratio in your classroom can be a game changer for EVERYONE, not just students with an IEP or 504. The first thing to do is take control of the extraneous noise you can control. Try turning off any background music playing if any audible communication is taking place, get the class’ attention prior to speaking, use area rugs on hard surfaced floors, and if possible turn off any fans. However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that all noise can be controlled by us (would be nice though). There are times when we need to increase the signal (the voice of the person talking). We often do that through amplification of some kind. It could be a microphone and speaker system for the entire class, it could be a microphone streaming directly to a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Another way to combat noise is by using written directions or visuals to provide context to the discussion or even provide automatic captioning for everyone using something like Webcaptioner. 

**For more information on captioning check out the article, Captioning for All, by Tai Botkin.