For student year
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Students spend an estimated 45%–60% of their school day listening to their teacher and classmates. If students are to succeed in the classroom, they must be able to hear what has been said. Classroom acoustics are a key factor affecting what school children can hear. In this practice, you will learn how to improve your classroom's acoustics by making your classroom quieter and your voice louder.
How the practice works
Watch this video to learn more about this practice.
Improving your classroom’s acoustics is easier than you think. You can use two strategies to improve your classroom’s acoustics:
- Make your classroom quieter by finding and fixing the sources of noise in your classroom.
- Make your voice louder by using devices that raise your voice so you don’t have to.
Not all recommendations for improving classroom acoustics will work in all classrooms, so you should first consider the circumstances of your particular classroom. This will help you to decide which recommendations you may try first, which you may try later, and which you won’t try at all. Before you improve your classroom’s acoustics, you can measure them.
Understanding acoustic terms
Classroom acoustics is how sound ‘behaves’ in the classroom. Classroom acoustics affect how well students can hear in the classroom. Some terms to be aware of:
- Unoccupied sound level: The sound in the classroom when it is empty. This sound level is usually reported in A-weighted decibels (dBA). Australian Standards recommend unoccupied sound levels in classrooms should be below 35–45 dBA. 35 dB is about the level of a whisper.
- Occupied sound level: The sound in the classroom when students and teachers are present. This sound level is usually reported in A-weighted decibels (dBA). Australian Standards recommend occupied sound levels in classrooms should be below 50–60 dBA. 50 dB is about the level of someone who is speaking in a normal conversational voice.
- Reverberation time (RT): The time taken for sound to decrease in the classroom. Australian Standards recommend RTs in classrooms should be below 0.3–1.2 seconds from small to large classrooms. Higher RTs make a room sound echoey.
- Speech transmission index (STI): An estimate of how easy it is to hear speech sounds in a classroom. The STI ranges from 0 (no speech sounds would be heard) to 1 (all speech sounds would be heard).
The videos beside show how one school considered the circumstances of their particular classrooms.
How to consider the sound pathways in your classroom
In this video, Dr Wayne Wilson talks about sound paths and how to identify them.
Acoustic challenges and adjustments
Watch this video to hear a teacher talk about some of the challenges she experiences in her classroom.
Acoustic challenges and materials.
In this video Associate professor and project leader Dr Wayne Wilson discusses how the materials in a classroom can affect acoustics.
Acoustic challenges and demountable classrooms.
In this video Dr Wayne Wilson discusses additional considerations for demountables.
Step 1: Try to make your classroom quieter
There are many things you can try to make your classroom quieter:
Identify the sources of noise
Inside the classroom
Outside the classroom
air conditioning units
chair legs scraping on hard floors
general-purpose assembly areas
power and cooling systems for things like computers and whiteboards.
school maintenance work (e.g., lawn mowing)
cut tennis balls in half and stick them to the ends of chair legs
increase the duct length of central air conditioning systems
Absorb noise by covering hard surfaces with soft
carpet or rugs on the floor
curtains (the heavier the better) over windows,
corkboards/soft pin boards over walls
netting on the ceiling filled with soft material such as foam
strategically place separator boards covered in soft materials such as foam, felt or flannel in the classroom
install acoustic tiles (special materials designed to absorb sound) on the floors, walls and ceiling.
Reflect the noise by “bouncing” it out of the classroom
strategically place an uncovered separator board in front of a noise source to “bounce” that noise away from the students and out of the classroom
Isolate the classroom - relevant for “dual cell” classrooms
Typically, concertina dividers separate classrooms visually but not acoustically: You can still hear the class next door.
use a heavy (the heavier the better) concertina divider that separates the classrooms both visually and acoustically
build a hard wall between the classrooms
Audiologists, acoustic engineers and even acoustic architects can specialise in this kind of work. One place you can try to find acoustic engineers in your region is via the Australian Acoustical Society
Step 2: Try to make your voice louder
To make your voice louder, you may wish to try:
- Arrange classroom furniture to reduce the distance between you and your students.
- For some individual children, a Personal Sound Amplification (PSA) system may be recommended (a.k.a. Remote Microphone Hearing Aids or personal FM systems). You wear a microphone and transmitter. The child wears a receiver and earpiece.
- Sound Field Amplification (SFA) systems help raise your voice over the background noise. You wear a microphone and transmitter. A speaker or speakers are placed in the classroom. When functioning optimally, SFA allows you to speak at a comfortable level while the system projects your voice so that it can be easily heard throughout the classroom.
Step 3: Trial and error
Adopt a trial-and-error approach to improving your classroom’s acoustics. Sometimes you will immediately hear the improvement in your classroom after you’ve tried a strategy. Other times, assessing your classroom’s acoustics before and after you’ve applied a strategy might help you to decide if the strategy is working.
Assessing your classroom’s acoustics before and after you’ve applied a strategy might also give you the data you need to support your strategies and possibly get more support to try other strategies
Step 4: Seek professional help
You may also wish to seek professional help to improve your classroom’s acoustics. You could seek help from specialists such as audiologists, acoustic engineers, or acoustic architects.
You can find acoustic engineers in your region on the Australian Acoustical Society website.
Practice implementation planner template
We know that it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:
- Guidance around goal setting
- Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
- Prompting questions
Set your professional learning goal for:
Improve your classroom's acoustics
Benefits of goal settingSetting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
How to set goalsThe Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.
SMART goals refers to goals that are:
Meet students' sensory needs
For student years
Helps students to
This practice is from the core research project
Set your practice implementation goal
This practice was developed as part of the Classroom acoustics project. More information about the evidence informing this practice is available on the project page.