Seven Ways to Improve Sound in Physical Education Settings

By Ryan, Stu | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Seven Ways to Improve Sound in Physical Education Settings


Ryan, Stu, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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Speaking and listening are primary modes of communication, and the most common goals of the educational process are to share experiences, exchange ideas, and transmit knowledge. Physical education teachers are constantly searching for strategies that will enrich the educational process. However, the essential process of speaking and listening is often overlooked (Ryan, 2009a). When not appropriately addressed, the inaudibility of teachers and peers can negatively affect listening, language, and literacy skills (Flexer, 2004). Teaching settings can be "hostile listening environments" that undermine the learning of children in school (Massie, Theodoros, McPherson, & Smaldino, 2004). While research has shown that typical classrooms may be acoustically challenging (Berg, Blair, & Benson, 1996), the acoustic conditions in physical education settings are undoubtedly more challenging than in the typical classroom (Ryan & Mendel, 2010). This article will explore many of the problems associated with teaching in poor acoustic settings and will suggest methods for improving sound in physical education.

Research has shown that young children spend a considerable amount of time engaged in the listening process. In fact, they spend around 75% of the school day engaged in listening activities (Dahlquist, 1998). With so much of a student's day spent in listening activities, an important consideration of the school environment should be the acoustic characteristic in physical education settings. In gymnasiums, outside teaching stations, and within a typical classroom, speech is transmitted from teacher to students through a combination of direct and reflected sound. Direct sound travels outward from the teacher and becomes reflected sound after it has struck one or more objects or surfaces in a room. This reflected sound is known as reverberation. Reverberation is the continual process of sound reflecting off walls, floors, ceilings, and other solid surfaces (American National Standards Institute, 2002). The level of direct sound falls by 6 dB for every doubling of distance from the speaker (Boothroyd, 2006). If a physical education teacher's speech level is 70 dB and a student is thirty-two feet away (which is common in physical education settings), the level of direct sound would be 40 dB (Ryan, 2009a). While it is common for physical education teachers to be a great distance from their students, a teacher should be approximately six feet from the students for maximum intelligibility (Crandell & Smaldino, 1994). While achieving this distance is difficult in a typical classroom setting, it is practically impossible to achieve in physical education settings, which may have over 30 or 40 students (Ryan & Yerg, 2001).

A student's location in a gymnasium or covered area establishes the specific combination of direct and reflected sound the student hears. The distance between the teacher and students determines the amount of acoustical energy in a direct and reflective sound wave reaching the students (Ryan, 2009a). A gymnasium or a covered area can be a challenging listening environment due to its size (increased distance leading to decreased sound levels) and its reflective surfaces (e.g., walls, floor, ceiling), resulting in long reverberation times that can diminish speech comprehension. Further, a physical education teacher teaching outside can rely only on direct sound resulting in decreased speech levels (Ryan, 2009a).

Background noise is another important factor that influences the quality of a gymnasium's acoustics. Background noise is defined as any sound that is unrelated to the speech of the talker (Boothroyd, 2005). High levels of background noise may have a negative effect on the students, such as poor speech understanding, listener distraction, and fatigue. At the same time, teachers may also experience fatigue and even vocal abuse (Boothroyd, 2005). …

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