Effective audio can impact classroom results, especially for ADHD students 

By Gene Tognetti 


During my days as an administrator, I often visited the class of a second-grade teacher named Carolyn at my school 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 Lightspeed Redcat instructional audio system used in the classroom. 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 attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (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? 


More resources:  

Article: Using classroom audio to reach students with ADHD  

Article: Microphones: Classroom solutions for ADHD, APD, LD, and “typical” students 

Article: Ears: The doorway to the brain 

E-book: Improving student learning through clear, intelligible sound 

Video: Giving all students access 

Article: Breaking down invisible barriers to learning 

Article: “Full range” of audio makes hearing easier, focuses learning 

Video: How instructional audio captures and keeps children’s attention in the classroom 

Research: Sound-field amplification to increase compliance to directions in students with ADHD 

Case Study: Impact of classroom audio on high ESOL student population 

Case Study: “Rockin’ classrooms of the future’ give every student a voice 

Case Study: An elementary school uses classroom audio systems to encourage public speaking and lower discipline rates