Grade 1 Students Miss One in Six Words

Sep 12

Put on your shoes.  Put on your shoes.  Put on your shoes.  I don’t like to yell, really, I don’t.  My kids don’t believe me when I say this, but it’s true.        

Why, I ask my children in the gentlest of voices, can’t you just do as I say the first time I say it? 

My six-year-old lifts his shoulders and raises his outstretched palms toward me in a pose of surrender, “I didn’t hear you!”  His clear blue eyes widen pleadingly at me and I feel compelled to believe him. 

Wouldn‚Äôt you?¬† No?¬† Well, shame on you then.¬† Because for one, he is such a sweet looking boy.¬† And two ‚Äì he‚Äôs actually right, well, sort of…¬†

Audiologists have long known that a child‚Äôs auditory system is less mature than that of an adult.¬† As a result, he or she will have a tougher time hearing a signal (such as Mommy‚Äôs voice) amid background noise (like TV, knock-knock joke-a-thons.)¬† The good news for moms and dads is that we know when our child is not tuned in to our voices and are eager to aid them by, um, raising our voices.¬† But move into the classroom environment and that same child may not get a second chance to hear what the teacher¬†says.¬† According to a study by the (CLLRNet), the average grade one student in a typical classroom does not hear one in six words spoken by the teacher.¬†¬† That is a lot of —s to miss. Imagine following a r—-e and not hearing all the ing——ts.¬† While an adult can mentally fill in most of the blanks, a child with much less language experience cannot.¬† And with no remote control to turn up the volume, many kids will become confused or simply lose interest.

The strength with which a teacher’s voice enters a student’s ear is measured by the signal to noise ratio (SNR.)  The signal is, in this case, the teacher’s speech and the noise is the combination of every other sound in the classroom.  So during flu season, for example, the teacher must speak loud enough to outdo the cacophony of coughing, sneezing, and Kleenex pulling by her young learners.  Although such noises don’t seem like they’d be much of an impediment to a child learning about vowels and consonants, they actually are when you consider that the (ANSI) recommends that background noise in classrooms should not exceed 35 decibels (dB).  With a whisper measuring a mere 30 dB and a humming refrigerator 40 dB, it’s clear that only in the most sedated moments could a typical grade one classroom be this quiet.  For an average child to hear intelligibly, audiologists recommend the teacher sound at least 15 dB louder than the background noise (the SNR being +15dB.)  Include the myriad hallway interruptions, such as students stomping to the gym, or traffic outside windows, and one can appreciate the challenge schools face in achieving this acoustic standard.

Just how much does sound affect a child’s academic progress?  While this is difficult to measure, one study by Crandell and Smaldino reported that word recognition scores of children seated 6 feet, 12 feet and 24 feet from the teacher were 95%, 71%, and 60% respectively, or put another way – ‘A’ , ‘B’, and ‘C’ on the report card.  You could offset such a hazard by requesting your daughter or son sit front row center (perhaps send the teacher a few shiny red apples to sweeten the deal) but doesn’t every student deserve such VIP treatment? 

There are strategies that parents, teachers, and students can implement to ensure important lessons reach their intended young audience.  A costly, but effective solution is to add to primary grade classrooms.  It allows the teacher to speak into to a small microphone so that the sound is transmitted through a speaker.  However, a more economical way to improve the situation is to reduce background noise.  According to , an advocacy group for hearing impaired children, this can be done by keeping classes small and avoiding open concept classrooms completely.  Teachers should close the door to the hallway during important lessons.  And placing tennis balls on chair legs is so effective that is now ubiquitous across all schools.  In fact, Canadian company Sound Listening Environments Inc. manufactures environmentally-conscious balls called Hushh-ups specifically for this purpose.

Teachers, understandably, are content with the quiet that is achieved once their students clamour in from recess and sit at their desks after countless ‚ÄúBoys and girls, quiet please!‚Äù¬† While the kid who giggles or talks mid-lesson will elicit a stern look and¬†a shush, a mute student who stares listlessly in the teacher‚Äôs direction will most likely go unnoticed.¬† It makes sense then, to teach our kids to be vocal during instruction, not to create a distraction, but to advocate for themselves when they’ve missed what was said.¬†¬†When a student requests to¬†please speak louder, the teacher knows¬†that student values what is taught and¬†is helping to ensure¬†all those developing ears are tuned into her lesson.¬† And that beats a shiny red apple any day.





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Aug 28

The other day my husband turned to me and said with a sigh, “Life has been too easy for us.  It can’t possibly go on like this forever.”  Pardon?  Certainly, I’d agree that Charles Dickens would have been hard-pressed to find literary inspiration from our lives, but too easy?  Memories of nauseous pregnancies, sleepless nights, colicky babies, and whining toddlers from the past eight years raced across my mind like an episode of Super Nanny.  Those days when a pot of coffee beat back my exhaustion and drops of adult conversation preserved my sanity were not recalled as vividly for my husband who escaped to a muted office cubicle every day as I was P.T. Barnum at home.  Too easy?  I didn’t think so.


He was, as it turned out, referring specifically to our family finances after reading an article on the ballooning costs of a university education which we would one day be doling out for our three future surgeons… engineers? … or, um, general arts graduates.  Suspecting that he was trying to get off the hook for starting our next renovation project, I stated he was ridiculous and stomped off in a huff.  But in reality, I knew he was right.  In our twelve years of marriage, we have always been able to fully pay our bills on time and buy whatever we need (or really, really want) without much scrimping and saving.  However, we’ve also abstained from many luxuries that are simply beyond our budgetary grasp such as hiring a much needed housecleaner, going on island vacations, and paying retail at the Gap.  Perhaps it was time to trim our spending to ensure our future savings would cover that most important of goals – one that we both equally endorsed – our children’s post-secondary education.


As with most married couples, money has been the cause of many battles, yet it has also been a catalyst for peaceful negotiation and the melding of often divergent goals.  It has, in essence, created a system of checks and balances that ensure our hard-earned dollars don’t easily escape the crease in our family wallet.  Our “I do” to wedded bliss was the first of a string of “I do’s” in the give and take of conjugal mediation – with finance being a particularly popular subject.

“Do you mind if I buy another pair of stiletto boots?”  “I do.”

“Do you think I’m crazy to ask if I can go golfing with the guys next weekend?”  “I do.”

“Do you think we should replace our old barbecue?”  “I do.”

“With a $4000 Weber?”  “I don’t.”


Perhaps the ease in our lives (remember, we’re just talking money here) has less to do with luck and more to do with the need for consensus in all our financial decisions.  Indeed, a study on how marriage impacts wealth, by Jay Zagorsky of OhioStateUniversity, indicates that couples who marry and – this is important – stay married, tend to accumulate more wealth than their single or divorced counterparts.  Married individuals experienced a 16% annual increase in wealth compared to the average single or divorced individual who scraped out an annual increase of 8% and 14%, respectively.  So, clearly my husband can expect this “easy” life to continue “till death do us part.”  However, if we should part before that, all bets are off.  According to the same survey, divorce can cripple a person’s wealth – reducing it by 77% when compared to a single person (while staying married almost doubles one’s wealth.) 


It’s a good thing I love roller coaster rides, because when I look back at the past twelve years I can‚Äôt believe all the dips, lifts, and surprise turns we‚Äôve experienced together ‚Äì some fantastic, others not so great.¬† And I can only imagine what amazing twists we will face over the next decade, but it‚Äôs good to know one thing is for certain ‚Äì our wealth will very likely keep going up.


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Aug 15

Throw a ball to a boy and he’ll probably fire it back and launch a game into action. Hand that same boy a book and he’ll probably fling it aside for a more compelling activity.

Sound like a cliche? Maybe not.

The 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of fourth graders found girls outperformed boys in all 40 countries, including Canada. Recent studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown similar results. While numerous school initiatives across Canada try to close this gap, Jo-Anne Coughlin, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience and Early Literacy consultant from 2001 to 2006, insists parents are always the first educators. Sitting comfortably in a pint-sized chair in her grade 2 classroom, she offers insights into the challenges facing parents with the familiarity of a seasoned mother, she has five (now grown up) sons.

Giving a boy choice in what he reads will help feed his literary appetite. Ms. Coughlin says parents can help by tuning into their son’s interests and providing a range of literature that fuels his inquisitiveness. But don’t focus on storybooks alone; boys are likely to seek out less conventional reading material, such as trading cards, magazines, and reference books. That’s okay, concedes Ms. Coughlin, these sources build literacy skills and are a valuable part of a boy’s scholastic backpack.
She recommends fact-based reference books to hook reluctant readers,”They enjoy the bite-size pieces of it, photographs, captions, headings, and they have choice in terms of where to begin and end in reading.”
Publishers are responding to the unique needs of boys by offering factionals, books that combine fact and fiction, such as the Magic Treehouse Series which embeds historical and geographical facts within an adventure story about two children who travel to different times and places.

Boys like to know their purpose for reading, says Ms. Coughlin, and they’re less likely than girls to read for sheer pleasure.

They dig through their source for useful morsels of information that they can store in their pocket of knowledge for later use. Boys want to engage others in their reading experience by sharing the ideas and facts they’ve discovered. A publication that includes instructions on how to make a craft or perform an experiment gives him a purpose for reading and provides an opportunity to share the experience with a friend. Ms Coughlin encourages mothers and fathers to find books that provide them opportunities to work creatively together.

Parents should set aside time to read, without distractions like TV and video games for both themselves and their child.  Mom and Dad model the values they wish to instil in their children when they read in their presence. But don’t underestimate the importance of time together, engrossed in a book or discussing the latest read because, says Ms. Coughlin, “Anything a parent does one on one with a child and takes seriously, makes him think it matters to them, so it matters to me.”


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