In May when we asked our 50 ‘experts’ (the 10 year olds of PS 20) if it was too noisy in their classroom, in unison, they screamed, ‘YES!”
We’ve been working on ways to calm the noise ever since. We bought very inexpensive wireless microphones, using them as ‘talking sticks’. As a result the students focused a lot more during classroom discussions– and they did so instantly. And all the kids, even the quietest of souls, got a chance to be heard. An easy, cheap solution that any classroom could use right now.
Another problem, Room 220 has all hard surfaces (tile floor, glass windows, etc.) sound bounces off of them. We researched sound absorbent materials for some of the walls.
We also have a great DIY inexpensive 'cloud' solution for the ceiling which we’re currently checking out with the Department of Education (the sketch is below).
This is an innovative, inexpensive noise and visual enhancement which will also be funded by donations.
But there are lingering questions: The kids make the noise they hate? Wait. Why? I asked two kids who said. “We’re bored. So we’re talking to our friends. Class has to be more fun!” I realized this was a good time to reach out to Dr. Sarah Hahn-Burke, who is a child psychologist and a longtime advisor to us. She says, “Typically only about 1/3 of students must have quiet: 1/3 will do just fine with a lot of noise, 1/3 are somewhere in the middle.”
And, she noted, that boredom implies that the teacher has done this to them. “That’s unfair.” Dr. Hahn-Burke says, “Boredom is a catchall term and, in this case, could mean the work is too hard. It’s too challenging.” So the child becomes anxious, disconnected, defensive, cognitively or emotionally dissociated. Shut down. Kids talk to their friends so they don’t fade out, don’t drift off into their own world. We all do this, even adults. She says, “They are self-regulating.” This is a good thing to self-regulate but they need to develop other ways to do this since while talking to their friends is a very important and a good way to learn, it's not good when it's distracting and NOISY!
A quieter classroom will go along way to supporting students' learning and teachers' teaching.
Dr. Sarah Hahn-Burke is the director of PerDev, Perceptual Development Learning Center in New York, NY www.perdev.com