Hear to Learn Enhances Student Success

A child sits near the back of an at-capacity kindergarten classroom. How do the teacher’s words reach her? What is the likelihood that she comprehends everything her teacher says? How does that change if the air conditioning is roaring, or a garbage truck idles on the street outside? Perhaps she is recovering from an ear infection. Maybe she’s just sitting next to a particularly chatty classmate.

Where kids sit and how they hear affects academic success. Students miss 30 to 50 percent of what is said in the classroom simply because they cannot hear clearly. While students with typical hearing routinely struggle to hear their teachers, additional complicating factors are at play for many children. These include learning English as a second language, poverty, learning disabilities, hearing loss, sensory issues, attention deficit disorders, and other special needs.

These challenges can be mitigated by Hear to Learn, a parent initiated Lincoln Public Schools pilot program created to increase student learning by improving the classroom listening environment.

“Children listen differently than adults,” noted Beth Brady, a speech-language pathologist who with Susan Stibal co-founded the project. “If we miss a word because of a loud noise or other distraction, our brains can fill in the blanks. Because of their age and inexperience, children can’t do that. A child might miss the whole meaning of a sentence if a single word is unheard.”

To clearly understand instruction, children need the teacher’s voice to rise 15 decibels above background noise. In the typical American classroom, the teacher’s voice rises only four decibels above background noise.

Hear to Learn will install 115 classroom amplification systems in four LPS elementary schools: West Lincoln, Prescott, Sheridan and Kloefkorn. The schools were chosen to study the impact of classroom amplification on learners in different settings. Amplification systems consist of a main speaker with one microphone for teachers (worn on a lanyard) and another cordless, hand-held microphone for student use. The systems project sound evenly across classrooms, making every desk a good place to hear and learn.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in partnership with LPS, will take measurements of signal-to-noise ratios in several classrooms at each pilot school and track Hear to Learn’s impact on student achievement in reading and math, student engagement, special education referral rates and teacher absences. Hear to Learn expects benefits of the amplification systems to include higher test scores, increased on-task behaviors, decreased special education referrals and improved teacher attendance. LPS will use the Hear to Learn data to inform its decision on installing classroom amplification systems across its 38 elementary schools.

The Cooper Foundation made a grant of $10,000 to Lincoln Public Schools to support the initial implementation of Hear to Learn, which is also supported by Woods Charitable Fund, Community Health Endowment, LPS, and many individual donors.