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How instructional audio can help re-engage students

Students farther than 6 feet from a teacher may have trouble hearing . Those in the back of the classroom can miss 30% of what's being said.

5 min read


Young girl in denim overalls with hand to her ear for article on instructional audio

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It’s been a long, hard road for students, teachers and families these past three years. Now, with children back in classrooms full-time, educators are scrambling to adjust their teaching methods and classroom management to re-engage students.

headshot of Stephanie Meyer for article on instructional audio

Eighteen percent of students reported feeling “a lot less motivated” in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 32% of students reported feeling “a little less motivated,” according to a recent survey of K–12 teachers and middle and high school students. That’s half of the student population surveyed.

Students reacclimating to new routines and social circumstances need help getting back to the business of learning. Increased inattention and disciplinary problems are leading educators back to the basics to find the right tools and strategies to re-engage students with lessons and learning.

How do we re-engage students?

Among the noise and interruptions during the pandemic, a rarely considered aid proven effective in re-engaging students is instructional audio. While instructional audio first gained traction during mask mandates and social distancing, research shows all students benefit. It even helps teachers better communicate directions and instructions. 

Once considered a support for students with hearing loss or those with auditory and processing issues like autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, instructional audio is showing benefits for all students. It helps amplify sound equitably across the entire classroom, and that leads to greater student attention, fewer disruptions and less of a need for repeat instruction.

Research on instructional audio

Education leaders point to decades of research on instructional audio, including the Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Project conducted by the US Department of Education. The study concluded that various students (those with learning loss, students in the back of classrooms, students with learning differences, non-native English speakers and others) benefit from instructional audio solutions.

The study offers several examples. In Utah, leaders credited instructional audio for successfully reversing a two-year downward trend in achievement test outcomes for fourth- and fifth-grade students. Those in amplified classrooms showed a 10% to 15% increase in Stanford Achievement Test scores.

While most people consider student hearing a given, studies reveal a different story. Students need to be within 6 feet of a teacher for maximum intelligibility. Even at 6 feet, students show a 17% loss in critical speech recognition, and those at the back of the classroom may miss up to 30% of a teacher’s words. Students missing essential information are either asking the teacher to repeat it or, cognitively drained of energy, simply tune out.

What’s the benefit of instructional audio?

Instructional audio is especially valuable for young learners. A young person’s auditory network is not fully developed until age 15. The youngest students don’t have the benefit of life experiences to fill in the gaps from unfamiliar words. They easily miss phonetic sounds such as P or SH, F and S. These soft, high-frequency consonant sounds are critical for early language and literacy development and influence overall academic achievement.

On top of this, an amplified voice (not a louder voice) helps with attention. When speech is clear and intelligible, every consonant resonates, which promotes comprehension and lessens strain for listeners.

Many students report that instructional audio makes it seem as if a teacher is talking directly to them. Lessons can be more personalized. And class discussions can take on a new dimension. When students are handed a microphone, they hear their own words, which elevates their feeling of importance. No matter how softly they speak, their voice is heard by all. As students feel more personally invested in their lessons, the level of connectedness increases, and the total teaching experience becomes richer.

Instructional audio provides essential assistance for teachers. Most teachers talk about using their teacher voice during lessons. Projecting a voice across a classroom all day is tough on the vocal cords and personally draining. In fact, while teachers are just 4.2% of the U.S. workforce, teachers make up 20% of all voice clinic clients. Instructional audio allows teachers to speak at normal levels, saving their voice while giving them confidence that all students will hear every word and stay engaged.

Success at Rio Rancho Public Schools

My district, Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico, is an excellent example of an engaged student population. Most of the district is equipped with an instructional audio solution, and I love the support from the administrators and staff. As an audiologist, I’m especially pleased that not only do the systems level the playing field around listening and learning for students with auditory needs, they provide an equitable listening environment for all our students. 

As schools and districts search for ways to re-engage students post-pandemic, instructional audio is a practical solution worth the investment.


Stephanie Meyer is an audiologist for Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico. The district uses Lightspeed to engage students and provide an equitable listening environment.  

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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