It goes without saying that silence can sometimes speak louder than words and that the more loudly the teacher speaks in order to be heard in a noisy class, the louder the students get. This, I think, is also true for situations when you play an audio to the class. Over years, I’ve discovered that playing with the volume and sound can do wonders.
Whenever I play a recording during listening practice, I always start at a fairly low volume. Kids and teenagers especially don’t fully concentrate from the start and I’ve found out that if the recording is not loud enough (relative to the noise in the room), the students will be more inclined to calm down and to start paying attention. After all, unlike a video, an audio can only provide the sound so students have nothing else to hold on to.
If the above doesn’t help and provided the recording is only a few seconds in, I stop the disc, rewind and play it again (and again) from the very beginning. I even do this three times if necessary. Believe it or not, the students will eventually calm down without me having to say a word.
If I notice that someone is not paying attention later on during the listening practice, I just pause the recording again and look at that person with a
threatening compelling expression on my face. A few seconds of silence can sometimes help me to get that student’s attention back without disturbing the others in the room with additional ‘noise’.
I was once told by an inspector observing my class that the recording I’d played was too loud to her taste and that it’d really got on her nerves. Fair enough, I thought. I’ve kept that in mind ever since. The fact is that you’ll never know until you sit at the back at the classroom. The speakers are usually turned towards the class – not the teacher – so the volume may indeed be too loud without you even realizing it.
I’d say that the older I get, the less noise I’m willing to tolerate overall. Even more so after my nine-year-old son told me that it’s simply too noisy at his school – especially during breaks. So I gather that even children prefer a quiet atmosphere to a noisy one. I’m not saying that learning can’t occur when there’s a little excitement but there should certainly be a limit.
As a rule of thumb, I’d now say that it’s always better to have a low-key presence in the classroom. This means operating in a quiet but effective way, sometimes deliberately speaking beneath the din of the mob and turning the volume down rather than up in an attempt to gain students’ attention when using technology.