Classroom acoustics are an important part of helping deaf student succeed in the mainstream. While the easy to clean tile floors and large open spaces of most elementary school classrooms make them ideal for the messy, experiential learning that is so crucial to development in the first few years of school, they also add up to an acoustic nightmare for a student with impaired hearing. Even a 15-20 dB loss (as quiet as leaves rustling!) can have significant educational impact. How can you help?
First of all, these suggestions are worth NOTHING without properly working equipment. There is no substitute for well-maintained and well-programmed hearing aid(s) and/or well-maintained and well-mapped cochlear implant(s).
An FM or Soundfield system can help amplify the speech of teachers and classmates, bringing it louder and clearer and CLOSER to the student with hearing loss. FMs and Soundfields help to give students a more favorable Signal to Noise Ratio — that is, the signal (teacher’s voice) is amplified louder than the noise (background sounds in the classroom), making it easier for a student to listen to important information.
Decrease the reverberation and distortion of sound bouncing off of floors and walls by adding rugs, tennis balls, sound panels, cork boards, etc. to absorb sound around the room.
Be mindful of the physical location of the classroom within the building — is it next to the boiler, water heater, or air conditiong unit? Does it overlook the playground, or back up to the gym?
In a mainstream environment, especially for younger children, who cannot yet read directions independently, children need to be able to LISTEN to LEARN, so these modifications are very important. However, it is also important for children to learn how to self-advocate and “make do” in difficult listening situations — these will, inevitably, be a part of their lives. My philosophy? For school, make every acoustic accommodation necessary — your ability to “make do” with a less-than-perfect auditory signal isn’t worth a thing if you never learn to read! For the rest of life, however, strike a balance between optimizing conditions vs. optimizing the child’s RESPONSE to conditions that are less than ideal — that way, they will be equipped to deal with whatever comes their way.