Students develop the foundation for lifelong reading skills in early elementary school, and a new neuroscience study suggests they may be particularly hindered in that learning by background noise.
People often have trouble discerning one person’s voice amid many conversations—think of trying to follow a conversation at a party—but generally adults easily distinguish a voice from other background noises. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience finds that we develop the ability to track voices over time, and children may be hampered more by additional noise than adults.
Researchers measured the brain activity of adults and children ages 6 to 9 as they listened to four recorded stories, each with different levels and kinds of background noise, either other people talking or just general sounds.
Early reading instruction in the United States focuses heavily on teaching students phonics. These results seem to suggest that students may have a more difficult time distinguishing phonemes and following speech or instructions as classroom noise rises, and highlights the importance of quiet classrooms while children are learning to recognize language, said Marc Vander Ghinst, the lead author and a researcher at a developmental neuroscience center at the Free University of Brussels, in Belgium.
“The more teachers take time to do a correct pronunciation, the better the student understands,” he said. “Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that this also brings a better speech representation in the brain. My advice would be: Take the time to do a correct pronunciation, and try to do it in a calm atmosphere.”
Excerpted from “Children May Struggle More With a Noisy Classroom Than Adults” in Education Week online. Read the study abstract in the Journal of Neuroscience.