Nina Kraus, a biologist at Northwestern University, has spent the
better part of her professional career researching how sound affects the
brain. What she's found has important implications for how adults and
children manage the sounds that envelop them. "Sound is invisible, but
it's a tremendously powerful force," said Kraus. "For better or worse,
it shapes your brain and how you learn." And according to Kraus, some
sound environments are better than others at promoting learning. She
offers several practical suggestions for creating that kind of space,
whether at home or in school:
Chronic background noise is associated with several auditory and learning problems. It contributes to "neural noise," wherein brain neurons fire spontaneously in the absence of sound; it reduces the brain's sensitivity to sound; and it slows auditory growth.
A study of two different third grade classrooms — one overlooking a highway and the other beside a quiet field — found substantially better learning outcomes for kids in the quieter room. Because income and noise exposure are correlated — the lower the income, often, the louder the environment — finding pockets of quiet are that much more important for disadvantaged children. In school, this means building a quiet classroom, with acoustics in mind.
Hearing stories told by others develops vocabulary and builds working memory; to understand how a story unfolds, listeners, need to remember what was said before.
Listen to audiobooks and podcasts
Well-told stories can draw kids in and build attention skills and working memory. The number and quality of these recordings have exploded in recent years, making it that much easier to find a good fit for individuals and classes. In Kraus's course on the biological foundations of speech and music, for example, she assigns a podcast from the WNYC program "RadioLab" The Walls of Jericho, to help students better understand decibels.
Use the spread of technology to your advantage
Technologies that shrink the globalized world enable second-language learning. Online videos allow aspiring musicians to listen and learn from others who are playing the same piece. The ease of travel invites opportunities to hear other types of sounds that might not be typical in a local environment. Assistive listening devices can help offset hearing loss and language disorders. Judicious use of technological progress can be used to build effective sound-to-meaning connections.
Encourage children to play a musical instrument
"There is an explicit link between making music and strengthening language skills, so that keeping music education at the center of curricula can pay big dividends for children's cognitive, emotional, and educational health," according to Kraus.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
What Types of Sound Experiences Enable Children to Learn Best?