During my days as an administrator, I often visited a second-grade teacher’s classroom at my school. I went to Carolyn’s classroom to learn more about teaching in general, and specifically how to more effectively work with younger children. Being a middle-school teacher in addition to vice principal, I really needed to get more grounded in effective ways to teach the younger kids. What I discovered over time was that many of the techniques Carolyn employed were really universal in nature, and not just applicable to the little guys. For instance, her use of audio and sound to assist in teaching—and more generally to develop a calm, peaceful, and inviting learning environment—turned out to be a universal tool that can help all students.
One method Carolyn employed was using background music during certain activities in class. When she had students doing writing assignments, after she provided verbal (and written) instruction, Carolyn would softly play some classical music on the classroom sound system. This helped keep noise to a minimum, and blocked out some of the “outside” sounds that can be distracting. It was clear students appreciated the soft, soothing sounds that played, and the result was typically a high-performing learning classroom. We had a number of students who had been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and I believe they in particular benefited from the background music. I later used this technique in my seventh-grade classroom, and the results were noticeable: more student engagement, more focus, and higher-quality products.
Carolyn also ensured that her instructions were carefully worded and structured in a way to be both encouraging and specific. This supported all learners, as students were clear on tasks they were to complete and what they were to accomplish once the instructions were given. Of course, Carolyn gave time for students to ask any questions to clarify the assignment.
When students were assigned to work in centers (typically groups of six students in five or six groups), Carolyn also employed sounds to assist her instruction. For instance, she would ring a bell in advance of the next rotation to provide students “advance warning” about the upcoming transition. She would ring the bell once when there was about 2 minutes to go, and provided a simple instruction/announcement to that effect. She would do the same at the 1-minute mark, and then again when it was time for students to transition to the next station. I believe this additional, simple strategy helped all students. From my observation, the students who struggled with attention-based issues responded positively to the additional transition audio cues.
Carolyn taught me some important concepts about how to more effectively use audio to support learning, and I employed several of her techniques, which I thought clearly helped my older students as well. Some simple actions can help all students achieve more. What can you do to add audio to more effectively support all your learners?
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Gene Tognetti is the founder of Agile Educational Technology Consulting in Campbell, California. He provides professional development to educators on a wide variety of topics, including effective classroom technology integration, digital citizenship, developing student critical thinking and creativity skills, blended learning, 1:1 classrooms, and the administration's role in technology planning.
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