From desks surrounded by plexiglass and required mask use, to students split between remote and classroom settings, educators say instructional audio systems are more important than ever to overcoming barriers to learning presented by COVID-19 measures.
Lightspeed invited educators from Plano Independent School District, a suburban school district located 20 minutes north of Dallas, Texas, serving more than 53,000 students across more than 72 schools and 11 service facilities, to share how the classroom instructional audio system impacts their learning environment in the Web series “In Action: Instructional Audio in the Classroom during COVID and Beyond.”
Plano ISD has been using Lightspeed’s Topcat Access and Redcat Access systems since 2017, implementing them at its early childhood learning centers, elementary, middle and senior high schools, adult transition centers and other learning facilities.
Brian Bowes, assistant director for instruction technology for Plano ISD, said he was a little unsure how the system would be received the first led a daylong training for 20 teachers on Lightspeed’s instructional audio system. He soon got his answer when he forgot to put the Flexmike back on as he restarted the training after lunch and immediately got a request from the back of the room: “Could you please put it back on?”
Bowes said the system offers important benefits to learning, helping to create the best environment for students to succeed. “Along with reducing the vocal strain for a teacher it’s also reducing the auditory fatigue for the learner,” he said. “It’s just a lot easier for them to hear you.”
Supporting instruction, classroom management
Educators typically spend more than 80 percent of their day talking, which can be draining to make sure students in all parts of the classroom can hear.
“Vocabulary development is huge at this age, so for them to hear and understand everything I’m saying as I use that academic vocabulary… is crucial,” said Kara Scifres, a third-grade teacher at Plano ISD’s Huffman Elementary.
Joking that teaching is “90 percent acting,” Scifres said it can be draining to inject excitement into reading materials and even the simplest math lessons.
“Having the mic just helps with my energy level,” she said.
The system also offers Scifres more freedom to move around the classroom, redirecting students as needed. “I don’t have to always be stuck at the front of the room for everyone to hear my voice,” she said.
Beyond “being heard”
Margarita “Maggie” Beck, an ELL teacher at Plano ISD’s Shepton High School, initially thought her small class size meant she didn’t need a classroom audio system. After a year, the school librarian sent her more information about the system, so she decided to give it a try and was surprised at the immediate response from students.
“They just started to participate more,” she said. “I just started using it all the time after that because it made a big difference in how I was being heard.”
Beck said the mic system helps provide equal instruction throughout the classroom.
“They can hear you and that’s going to really make them understand you,” she said.
Juggling students in-person and online
Lightspeed’s system has also been beneficial as schools offer multiple learning environments. Beck’s high school ELL classes are split between at-home and in-classroom learners. By using her Lightspeed Flexmike, Beck’s students participating remotely can experience the same instructional class.
“They’ll be able to hear me, and at the same time we’re also listening to them … they’re able to fully participate just like if they’re in the classroom,” she said.
No more “teacher voice”
Beck said using Lightspeed’s Flexmike had made a big impact on classroom environment, including better student behavior.
“You get a calmer environment, because you’re calmer,” she said. “You’re not using your “teacher voice.”
Using a natural tone of voice also helps build confidence among her students, Beck said. “My lessons can be heard… it really invites the students to listen, and a higher interest from them as well.”