Technology helps get word across to students

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Parents hearing that Jackson schools are using infrared technology to teach children how to read shouldn't fear for their children's health.

The schools' use of phonemic sound-field amplification systems has few side effects, except perhaps improvements in attention spans, class participation and behavior problems.

It may sound complicated at first, but the systems boil down to a simple microphone/speaker combination that projects the teacher's voice evenly throughout the classroom.

No more straining to hear the instructions for those students in the back of the room; no more sore throats for teachers from yelling over noisy air conditioners. And research shows the systems also improve students' reading skills, because they can hear the full pronunciation of words.

Part of the class

"Teachers don't have to repeat themselves as much and they can talk in a normal voice," said Clay Vangilder, principal at Orchard Elementary, where five teachers are using the systems this year. "The kids in the back of the room feel like they're a part of the class."

The systems consist of a 12-inch tall portable speaker and a 5-inch long microphone that teachers wear around their necks. The infrared technology allows teachers to use the microphone no matter where they are in the room, even with their backs turned while writing on a chalk board.

The idea to use the technology came from a workshop that Orchard speech language pathologist Jolie McCallister and others attended over the summer.

"This is really about doing anything we can do to help kids read better," said McCallister. "Phonemic awareness is a skill that has a very strong relationship with reading success. The children hear every sound, even in the back of the room."

Phonemic awareness includes rhyming words, syllables and varying word sounds, McCallister said.

The speakers are not very loud, they just direct the teacher's voice around the room. Both McCallister and Vangilder said they can already tell a difference in classroom behavior with the systems in place.

Teachers also see benefits, including strain on their voices from competing with classroom noises.

"Teachers have told me they're not as tired at the end of the day," said McCallister.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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