5 Ways Instructional Audio Supports Literacy Development 

Teachers and parents are justifiably concerned about lagging reading scores. In 2022, the average NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reading scores for nine-year-olds had declined by five percentage points from 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). School districts nationwide continue to look for ways to boost student literacy and close the reading proficiency gap worsened by the pandemic.  

Many have adopted reading programs based on the Science of Reading, which particularly emphasizes oral reading fluency. As of July 2023, more than 30 states have adopted “Science of Reading laws.” These laws require districts to incorporate an evidence-based approach to reading instruction based on these five pillars: 

  • Phonemic Awareness 
  • Phonics 
  • Fluency 
  • Vocabulary 
  • Comprehension 

Listening Supports Literacy Gains 
Students must clearly hear and understand the sounds of spoken language to develop phonemic awareness. However, classroom noise, hearing loss and desk location can keep them from building this skill. In fact, Nearly all—97% of classrooms—fail to meet the acoustic standard for an appropriate listening environment.[1] 

Teachers agree that students’ perception of spoken language plays a critical role in their literacy development.  

“Children write as they speak, and they speak as they hear, so when students don’t hear clearly, their speech and writing is affected,” said Meg Visconti, a district speech pathologist at Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona. 

Instructional audio—classroom amplification systems that project a teacher’s voice clearly and evenly throughout the classroom—can help districts better support literacy development grounded in the Science of Reading in five crucial ways. 

1. Instructional audio fosters phonological and phonemic awareness 

The English language consists of about 41 phonemes, the smallest units of spoken language. While a few words have only one phoneme, most consist of a blend. According to a National Reading Panel study, phonemic awareness instruction helped children improve their reading, including students who are developing readers, students at risk for future reading problems, and English language learners. 

By adding instructional audio, teachers were able to further strengthen students’ phonological and phonemic awareness, according to a 2002 study published in The Hearing Journal. 

  • 78% of students who received phonological and phonemic instruction in an amplified classroom scored above the mean on the Yopp-Singer Test of Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, compared with 57% of students who learned in unamplified settings. (The test measures a child’s ability to articulate the sounds of a spoken word in order separately.)  
  • Results also suggest that phonological and phonemic awareness training, as a pre-literacy booster, was more effective when instructional audio was added.  

In Utah, districts saw similar gains when adding instructional audio to their classrooms. A study of three first-grade Utah classrooms showed 74% of students scored at the basic level or above on the Utah State Core Reading Text after installing instructional audio systems, up more than 30 percentage points compared to five years prior.[2] 

2. Instructional audio facilitates large-group and small-group instruction 

Reading instruction typically begins as a whole-classroom activity where the teacher introduces and practices a skill in front of the room. Instructional audio can help deliver these lessons clearly to all students—even those who don’t have hearing loss. An ​​Improving Classroom Acoustics Study found that 95% of students said instructional audio made it easier to hear their teacher and helped them listen better. 

Small-group reading instruction also plays a vital role in literacy development. Educators can work more closely with struggling readers in these groups and focus on building specific skills. Students often practice fluency skills and sound out words in small groups. Sometimes, students may practice with an instructional aide, but the teacher may still want to listen to the group’s progress and intervene if necessary. 

  • Some instructional audio systems, including Lightspeed’s Activate System, allow educators to listen to small group collaboration, revealing critical insights. Teachers can better tailor reading instruction to each student because they receive real-time feedback on the learning process. They can also monitor each group, reinforce teaching and redirect students. 
  • Instructional audio also empowers students to use their microphones to read aloud in their natural voice. This allows the teacher to get a better sense of their fluency. 

3. Instructional audio provides equitable learning opportunities for all students 

English language learners and students with auditory processing disorders or dyslexia can face significant hurdles when it comes to literacy development. The Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study[3] concluded that instructional audio improves learning and educational achievement, including literacy, reading fluency, listening comprehension and reading vocabulary.  

  • Instructional audio improved speech perception scores by up to 30% for English language learners.[4] 
  • In amplified classrooms, English language learners correctly recognized 79% of monosyllabic words, a difference of 21 percentage points. This disparity worsened the further students were seated from their teacher.[5] 
  • The number of students referred to special education between grades K through 6 decreased by 43% in classrooms supported by instructional audio over a five -year period.[3] 
  • Utah’s English language learners achieved the highest gains using instructional audio. Their average growth on the state criterion-referenced subtests. was 16%.[6] 

4. Instructional audio preserves and enhances educators’ voices for reading instruction 

Teachers spend the majority of their day talking to large groups of students, competing with students’ voices, HVAC systems and outdoor and hallway noise. This can strain their vocal cords and reduce their ability to enunciate words properly.  

Amplified classrooms allow teachers to speak clearly without raising their voices. Educators using these systems report greater vocal endurance, decreased fatigue and greater voice clarity.[7]  According to the MARRS project, researchers found that absences due to vocal strain and voice fatigue decreased from 15% annually to 2 to 3% in amplified classrooms.  

“We speak for hours and hours a day, and we can really strain our vocal cords. This mic really allows me not to have a sore throat as much as I used to because I don’t have to speak at a higher level,” said Natasha Allen, a fourth-grade teacher at Salt Creek Elementary School in New Providence, New Jersey, who used Lightspeed’s instructional audio system.  

5. Instructional audio reduces distractions and elevates the classroom experience 

When students are engaged in their learning, they become more invested in their success. When teachers get the resources they need, they can better connect with their students and get them excited about reading. 

Several studies showed increased participation, higher productivity and better behaviors in classrooms supported by instructional audio. 

  • Nearly all—96% of teachers in the ICA Studies—said that students’ qualitative behavior related to attentiveness, listening, and comprehension improved with voice amplification. 
  • 92% of school administrators in the studies described class instruction and management as enhanced when amplification systems were in place. 

Explore how your students can improve literacy with instructional audio 

When students can clearly hear and understand their teachers, they make great strides in reading. With the right instructional audio tools, K-12 leaders can equip teachers and staff with the resources to support literacy development for all students. 

Watch the short video, The Benefits of Instructional Audio, to learn how you can support students’ literacy development in your district.

[1] Rosenberg, G.G., Blake-Rahter, P., Heavner, J., Allen, L., Redmond, B.M., Phillips, J., et al. (1999) Improving Classroom Acoustics (ICA): A Three-Year FM Sound Field classroom Amplification Study. Journal of Educational Audiology 

[2]  (McCarty, P.J., & Ure, A. (2003). The Effect Audio Enhanced Classrooms Have on Student Achievement and Teacher Instruction. Collaborative of High Performance Schools.) 

[3] Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study (MARRS) (2005b;2005c) 

[4] Crandell, C.C. (1996). Effects of Sound Field FM Amplification on the Speech Perception of ESL Children. Educational Audiology Monograph, 4, 1-5 

[5] Crandell, C.C. (1996). Effects of Sound Field FM Amplification on the Speech Perception of ESL Children. Educational Audiology Monograph, 4, 1-5 

[6] McCarty, P.J., & Ure, A. (2003). The Effect Audio Enhanced Classrooms Have on Student Achievement and Teacher Instruction. Collaborative of High Performance Schools.) 

[7] Smaldino, J., Flexer, C. Handbook of Acoustic Accessibility, 5, 60.