Local teachers amplify their lessons

Ms. Prevost’s Grade 1 class sat in a tight group in the corner of the room for its French lesson.

Ms. Prevost’s Grade 1 class sat in a tight group in the corner of the room for its French lesson.

Despite her petite stature, Madame Roussain’s voice boomed through the classroom, and the children listened attentively and then repeated her words.

Only the thin headset and microphone betrayed the fact that the she was using a voice-amplification device.

“I got it over a year ago and it’s just amazing,” said Prevost.

“The kids pay more attention, there’s not as much strain on my voice –– I’m sold on it.”

Recently, experts have warned that noisy classrooms can affect a child’s ability to learn.

Background noise and poor acoustics in Canadian classrooms hinders students’ ability to learn, according to a recent study by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network.

It determined that one in six words is not understood by the average Grade 1 student.

In the Yukon these warnings have not fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of noise in some classrooms,” said Kelly Power, a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“There’s lights, fans, computers, birds, fish tanks …”

The list goes on.

There’s also been a trend to remove carpets, drapes and corkboards, which used to dampen classroom noise.

And many Yukon classrooms have high ceilings, making acoustics even worse.

To overcome these problems, the Education department is encouraging the use of amplification devices, known as soundfields.

There are currently 92 devices in use in schools throughout the territory and 31 more have been ordered.

There are a number of different microphone systems available, such as a headset similar to that used by pop stars and motivational speakers.

There are also necklace-styled microphones, clip-ons, and standard handheld microphones that students can pass around to speak up in class.

“We call it a talking stick,” said Micki Deuling Kenyon, special programs co-ordinator at the department of Education.

“It teaches kids to take turns and it helps avoid students talking over one another.”

Kenyon is very enthusiastic about the program, in part because of her own experience with hearing loss.

“My hearing loss has made me more aware of the acoustic problems in buildings,” she said.

“I can really sympathize with the problems kids have to deal with in the classroom.”

Some teachers are hesitant to use the devices at first, but once they get to see the benefits of the system most are sold.

The ToGo model, as its name suggests, is portable and teachers are encouraged to take the devices with them into the playground, cafeteria, or gym.

There is also the FrontRow model, which is installed permanently in some classrooms.

The devices are being tested out in classrooms throughout Canada, but most provinces and territories haven’t embraced the system as wholeheartedly as the Yukon.

“We’re at the forefront of this,” said Kenyon.

“We hope to have one in every classroom within the next few years.”

Already improvements are being seen in classrooms where the amplification systems are being used.

One teacher has seen substantial improvement in the marks of his students.

Even those students already receiving 90 grades have increased to 95s.

Every year the products improve and become more comfortable; they become smaller, more portable and durable.

During a recent elementary school conference, only three soundfields were needed to amplify to a crowd of 500 people.

The program began in 2004, and receives $50,000 a year in funding.

Beyond sound amplification, the Education department of is trying to encourage schools to be more conscious of acoustics and problems with noise.

For rooms without carpeting the department recommends Hush Ups, a product similar to a tennis ball that can be slipped onto the legs of chairs and tables.

Poor acoustics affect teachers as well as students, the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists said in a news release on October 1 in Ottawa.

Straining to be heard over the clatter of grating chairs, ventilation systems and neighbouring classrooms can cause teachers to develop chronic voice problems.

Two local teachers, experiencing problems with voice fatigue, have contacted the program, said Power.

They will receive systems soon.

“It saves our voices,” agrees Prevost.

“Especially during gym class, when we used to really have to project our voices.”

At Christ the King elementary school, 14 out of 15 classrooms have sound fields.

One of those is Ms. Prevost’s class.

When French class ended, the kids scrambled back to their desks and Roussain handed the microphone system back to Prevost.

“I didn’t find it took any time at all to get used to it,” said Prevost as she adjusted the headset.

“I would hate to ever have to go back to teaching without one.”