Sound Systems Help Students Hear the Common Core
Making sure every student can hear proves critical to success with Common Core
The 2014-15 school year has brought a lot of changes to the Flowing Wells Unified School that have had a big impact on their schools and students. Like other districts in Arizona, Flowing Wells is wrestling with the increased academic demands of Common Core State Standards. Never an affluent district, demographic shifts have caused even more schools in this Tucson district to be designated as Title I. One of these new Title I schools is Richardson Elementary.
"The parents in our district are working hard but it can be tough to make ends meet," shared Meg Visconti, a speech pathologist for the district. "One of the effects of poverty is that parents have less time to help their children with homework or be involved in their day-to-day school activities. They also often don't have the money needed for co-pays in order to take their children to the doctor when they have a cold or suffer from allergies or asthma. While it may not seem like it, these things dramatically impact students' abilities to learn."
Better hearing leads to better learning
In the midst of all the changes and challenges, Mrs. Visconti discovered a way to help students, and teachers, excel. In October 2014, she was working with a first grade student who uses hearing aids in both ears. Her classroom was equipped with an amplification system that was provided by the Southeast Regional Cooperative, facilitated through Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Mrs. Visconti saw immediately how the system was helping this student thrive in the classroom. What surprised her though, was how much all the other students in the class were benefiting as well.
"Children write as they speak and they speak as they hear, so when students don't hear clearly, their speech and writing is affected," said Mrs. Visconti. "It's not just students with severe hearing loss that are impacted. We overlook temporary hearing loss that comes from drainage in the inner ear caused by colds and allergies. Information gets lost for these students, and for English Language Learners and students with ADHD."
With the increased focus on writing skills mandated by Common Core State Standards, Mrs. Visconti knew it was more important than ever that all students be able to hear. "It's hard to teach students to use the final 's' in possessives or plurals properly if they can't hear the sound. The same is true for 'ed' and 'ing'. Those endings to words are so important in the English language. If we can improve students' speech, we'll improve their writing too."
Inspired by what she'd seen, Mrs. Visconti contacted the Southeast Regional Cooperative to learn more about the amplification system. They provided her with lots of information about different systems from different vendors. After exploring her options, she decided that the Lightspeed Redcat whole-class amplification system was the best choice for Richardson.
Student daydreaming on the decline
Thanks to funding from the school's PTO and a donation from a staff member at Richardson, the school was able to purchase a single Redcat in November 2014. "We weren't sure how to decide which classroom should get the Redcat," said Mrs. Visconti. "Then, I remembered a conversation I'd had with our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Beck, and I knew hers was the perfect classroom to test the impact of the RedCat on learning."
Mrs. Beck teaches 28 high-energy students. Seven have been diagnosed with ADHD, one has severe learning disabilities, and two have emotional disabilities. According to Mrs. Visconti, "Mrs. Beck is an amazing teacher but she came to me looking for ideas on how to keep the seven students with ADHD on task without losing the other children's attention. During my research into amplification systems, I had read about their effectiveness with children with ADHD. All the elements in Mrs. Beck's class were just right for the Redcat."
Three weeks after the Redcat was installed in Mrs. Beck's classroom, Mrs. Visconti went for a visit. She asked the students what they thought about the Redcat. After a little bit of nervous silence, one girl said, "I kinda' like it, but I kinda' don't because now I can't tune Mrs. Beck out." Mrs. Visconti and Mrs. Beck knew immediately that the Redcat was accomplishing exactly what they'd hoped. The little girl who shared her opinion was one for the students with ADHD that Mrs. Beck was trying so hard to keep engaged.
Quality, not quantity, of instruction counts most
Based on the success in Mrs. Beck's classroom, Mrs. Visconti wants every class at Richardson to have an amplification system. Richardson's principal, Mr. Dunbar, agrees. So, he, Mrs. Visconti and parent volunteer, Kelli Burgess, wrote a grant to purchase five more Redcats. "We can't increase the number of hours we have to teach students but we can increase the saliency of the messages we deliver in the time we have," stated Mrs. Visconti. "Redcat makes learning much more efficient. Just a slight hearing loss takes away students' ability to learn as well as they could. I'm really confident that Mrs. Beck's class is going to see a gain thanks to the Redcat. It's improved students' ability to learn." Based on the most recent District Assessment Profile (DAP), it appears that is the case. Most recent DAP scores revealed a 31.3% increase in Language Arts performance and a 15% increase in Math performance.