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Soundfield Systems

What is a soundfield system?

A soundfield system is an arrangement of speakers designed to deliver an even level of sound within a room. The speaker, using a microphone, talks in a normal conversational voice and the listening experience is the same for the audience where ever they may be in the room and regardless of whether they are facing the speaker.


Why are soundfield systems fitted in classrooms?

Soundfield systems are often fitted in classrooms to support children with hearing impairments but once installed teachers often recognise the benefits for all pupils as well as themselves:

Less voice strain on teachers. Talking at a calm conversational level is much less stressful than being required to constantly project the voice.

Nearly all young children will suffer with some intermittent hearing loss at some stage and will struggle to hear above the average background noise levels (For more information read article on Glue Ear).

The sound structure (phonology) of each word is more clearly heard benefitting all children but particularly those with language and literacy difficulties. Children taught in classrooms with soundfield systems will generally have fewer phonological gaps than in similar classrooms without one fitted.

Improved phonology aids understanding and pupils are more able to follow instructions and understand concepts being explained if they hear well.

As the speaker does not need to raise their voice to be heard there is a calming effect on the children. This is because children will perceive a raised voice as a threat and this creates a raised level of anxiety even though the children may be not aware of this. The soundfield system enables the teacher to use a calm voice which reduces anxiety within the class and is particularly beneficial for sensory sensitive children.

Teachers often report that a soundfield system improves classroom behaviour management. One reason is that pupils hear instructions better, are therefore more able to understand what is expected of them during a task and thus have less need to engage in task avoidance behaviours. This reduces low level disruption in the class. Because of the even sound across the classroom there is no difference as the teacher moves around the room and this have a powerful behaviour management effect. When the teacher is working with a group they can switch the microphone on to talk quickly but calmly to the whole class without disrupting the learning e.g. giving time reminders or reinforcing expectations for task.



Do hearing impaired children still need to wear their hearing aids?

A soundfield system does not replace the need for hearing aids. However, it will give these children much more flexibility in where they are seated in the classroom as they can often do not need to be as reliant on lip reading to aid understanding. Children with hearing aids hear better in rooms fitted with soundfield systems than ones that are not.


How do soundfield systems work?

Soundfield systems are available specifically designed for classrooms with radio or infra-red microphones that are worn around the neck and leave the hands free. Some are designed to pick up sound whatever direction the speakers head is turned. A receiver is mounted on the wall normally near the board and usually in its own lockable box. This is connected to the power supply and to the speakers arranged around the classroom. A soundfield system is different to just having speakers as in a PA system because the aim is not to increase the volume of the speaker but to ensure that the voice is the same loudness across the classroom.



Legacy

A soundfield system is an excellent long term. Once fitted, usually in response to the needs of a specific child, the legacy for the classroom in terms of improved language, learning and behaviour is a power argument for them.


You may also be interested in the following pages:

Developing Listening

Sensory Needs - Hearing