Safe and Sound: 4 Strategies for Mixing Noise with Learning

Author: Amairani Asmad

Noise pollution, loud sounds, and decibel-defying audio input are staples in every school, with tangible effects on both students and staff. School leaders can take action to manage excessive noise for a conducive learning environment from the cafeteria to the classroom.

Everyone has been distracted by a passing airplane, rattling air conditioner, or ongoing chatter, but from the student’s perspective, intrusive noise can make the difference between an experience being accessible and educational versus distracting and limiting.
Whether originating from outdoors or indoors, ambient and active sounds can hinder student functioning, especially those with disabilities related to hearing or learning. District leaders as a result need to consider student input when applicable and teacher feedback when designing buildings or implementing noise management techniques so students can have the ability to listen more effectively.
A school does not need to be clinically silent to be conducive to learning, but it does need to meet the needs of all attendees through the reduction, or at times addition, of sound based on the individual.

Sound Effects
Studies have established a link between loud environments and negative behaviors in preschoolers including aggression, hyperactivity, and yelling, often as a form of coping.1 Moreover, children experience annoyance and interference because of noise, which can impair communication for those with hearing difficulties and concentration for learners with task-switching challenges.2
Teachers are also burdened by noise pollution in the forms of fatigue, increased impatience, reduced distress tolerance, acquired noise sensitivity, and voice strain from the auditory compensation they frequently perform in loud classroom settings.1, 3, & 4
Teachers cannot effectively teach their curriculums if students are not provided with the support they need for engagement, and students cannot learn if their teachers are in distress from the environment. There are, thankfully, a few proactive and reactive steps administrators can take to balance school noise with stakeholder needs.
1. Managing Outdoor and Environmental Noises 
While not everything that happens within a school’s radius is predictable, there are a few things that administrators can control with foresight.
This includes location as the first consideration for noise management. Grounds close to airports, railroads, construction sites, or highways will need to either be pitched to an alternative site in the planning stages or have specific noise insulation designs from the windows to the walls.
Other strategies are easier to implement by scheduling changes, such as performing exterior maintenance during off-peak hours or holding recess at strategic times to minimize sound traveling from the courtyard into nearby classrooms.
2. Keeping It Down Indoors and in Classrooms
Controllable indoor noise ranges from muffled HVAC systems to ear-friendly and light-integrated school alarms. On the other hand, manageable sounds are those that are student-generated, especially as a result of a large population density in a small area.
Younger children can benefit from visual sound monitors enforced by teachers, while student noise in high schools may be assisted by limiting attendance between in-person and online, similar to the scheduling measures implemented during the pandemic. Strategic foot traffic control, time blocking for lunches, soft sound-absorbing materials like carpets and foam, and anti-noise furniture caps are also measures that can reduce auditory input, noise travel, and reverberation.

3. Designing for Ears and Education

The goal for each classroom, or entire school unit, plays an important role in determining how to integrate noise control techniques efficiently and cost-effectively.
Cafeterias, gymnasiums, and music rooms require the most sound absorption and monitoring for high decibel levels harmful to hearing health. Conversely, libraries and computer labs would need to have measures to block sound from entering rather than exiting, with classrooms needing to be evaluated on an individual basis.
Lecture-heavy classes would be ideal in rooms with optimal acoustic design to preserve the instructor’s vocal health and assist with information transmission to students.5 Grade school subjects less dependent on lectures, such as Art or Math, may be able to be less prioritized if budgets or pre-existing optimized classroom space is limited.
Consulting with audiologists, acoustical experts, and architects can provide further insight into how a school can be built or modified for learners.
5. Maintaining Accessibility and Listening to Stakeholder Needs
Some students may benefit from the complete removal or partial addition of noise, particularly those with disabilities.
Noise-canceling headphones or earplug availability may be helpful for the behavioral regulation and academic performance of neurodivergent students; however, ‘white noise’ has also been correlated with performance benefits for neurodivergent students with ADHD.6 Administrators can maintain equitable accessibility for all students with developmental or learning disabilities by providing headset or earplug options based on individual learner needs and method efficacy.
Deaf or hard-of-hearing students may also be supported by prioritized seating or acoustically optimized classrooms to help with instruction and communication. Additionally, designated quiet respite areas would benefit every student and staff member, but would be critical for the wellness and education of learners with sensory sensitivities and hearing challenges.
Teachers would be able to provide more strategies and suggestions for noise management based on their daily observations and unmet auditory needs, which will not only help teachers but the students they support as well.
Loud and Clear Considerations
Schools are inherently filled with noise, but they are not always noisy.
Implementing universal design principles with sound management as a priority or modifying existing school systems can facilitate teacher engagement, and subsequently, student success.
 Ultimately, listening to outside experts and inside stakeholders are the best ways to generate ideas that are not only good, but sound good.

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1. Persson Waye K, Fredriksson S, Hussain-Alkhateeb L, Gustafsson J, van Kamp I (2019) Preschool teachers’ perspective on how high noise levels at preschool affect children’s behavior. PLOS ONE 14(3): e0214464.
2. Massonnié, J., Frasseto, P., Mareschal, D., & Kirkham, N. Z. (2022). Learning in Noisy Classrooms: Children’s Reports of Annoyance and Distraction from Noise are Associated with Individual Differences in Mind-Wandering and Switching skills. Environment and Behavior, 54(1), 58–88.

3. Bulunuz, Nermin & Coşkun Onan, Berna & Bulunuz, Mizrap. (2021). Teachers’ Noise Sensitivity and Efforts to Prevent Noise Pollution in School. Journal of Qualitative Research in Education. 26. 171-197. 10.14689/enad.26.8.

4. Cutiva, L. C., & Burdorf, A. (2015). Effects of noise and acoustics in schools on vocal health in teachers. Noise & health, 17(74), 17–22.

5. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Classroom Acoustics (Practice Portal). Retrieved month, day, year, from

6. Pawel R. Kulawiak | Deborah Schussler (Reviewing editor) (2021) Academic benefits of wearing noise-cancelling headphones during class for typically developing students and students with special needs: A scoping review, Cogent Education, 8:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2021.1957530

Amairani Asmad is a writer who has researched areas ranging from education to neurodiversity across the entire age spectrum. Her work can be found in school-targeted publications and peer-focused resource blogs. Amairani is also a Penn State University alumna with a B.S. in Rehabilitation and Human Services.