Stop, It’s too loud! Experiencing The Lombard Effect in ECE.

The Café Effect:

Have you ever noticed what happens to a group of people who might sit down together at a Café and begin talking? They start off quiet, but you might notice that as time passes, there is a gradual rise in the level of noise coming from the group. As time continues to pass, the noise level just gets increasingly louder until the waiter must intervene because the group are practically shouting!

This Café effect, or rather, the Lombard effect1,is a result of an unintentional response to a loud environment whereby you subconsciously keep raising your voice just to be heard. It was an accidental reaction. You never meant it, but now you’re shouting.

The interesting part of this is that even when the environment returns to a more normal noise level, the Lombard effect can continue to persist for some time.

Back In The Classroom:

In classrooms all around the country, you might find examples of this Lombard effect in practice. As educators, we ourselves may even fall under the spell of the Lombard effect, as we keep increasing our spoken volume not only to be heard, but to hear ourselves in conversation as we would be used to within a quieter environment2.

As educators, an interesting idea to note is that of effective communication. There is evidence that there needs to be up to a 10dB difference3 between a reasonable background noise and the spoken words in conversation for the communication itself to be effectively transmitted.

But knowing that the Lombard effect will continue to raise the noise level if we keep getting louder and louder, we are suddenly put in a tricky position. What do we do?

Strategies for loud learning environments:

It is recommended that educators avoid the constant increasing use of verbal instructions or redirections, as these provide very little effect in managing the raising noise level effects.

What is instead recommended are visual provocations to accompany a clear yet calm verbal instruction. This has been seen to assist in building natural resistance to the Lombard effect4. Over time, Children can learn to inhibit this natural yet reactionary response to a noisy environment.

You may also consider reducing group sizes during routines or group learning opportunities to minimise these noisier moments. It would also be beneficial to reflect on the use of an indoor/outdoor program, which would greatly increase the amount of space provided for the children. Careful creation of quiet and restful spaces both indoors and outdoors could also assist in allowing for a space for children to rest and relax, acting as a place of regulation.

For Educators and Leadership:

Noise within early childhood educational settings needs to be in the forefront of our minds. In our sector, there can be OH&S concerns for educators who can at times be exposed to peak noise levels of 140dB or averaged daily doses of over 80dB5. These exceed our Australian WHS regulations and poses a preventable risk to both educators and children in our care. Every effort should be made to respond to classroom noise level to prevent a runaway Lombard situation.

References:

1 Pick Jr, H. L., Siegel, G. M., Fox, P. W., Garber, S. R., & Kearney, J. K. (1989). Inhibiting the Lombard effect. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America85(2), 894-900.

2 Whitlock, J., & Dodd, G. (2006). Classroom acoustics—controlling the cafe effect… is the Lombard effect the key. Proceedings of ACOUSTICS, Christchurch, New Zealand, 20-22.

3 Bitar, M. L., Calaço, L. F., & Simões-Zenari, M. (2018). Noise in early childhood education institutions. Ciencia & saude coletiva23, 315-324.

4 Zollinger, S. A., & Brumm, H. (2011). The lombard effect. Current Biology21(16), R614-R615.

5 Grebennikov, L., & Wiggins, M. (2006). Psychological effects of classroom noise on early childhood teachers. The Australian educational researcher33(3), 35-53.

Resident Thinker (Author):
Christopher Bradshaw
B.ECE, M.Ed, GradCert eLearning.

Christopher has an extensive background in education across a range of fields. He is a lifelong learner who values education, training, and growth. It only made sense that a love of learning led Christopher to step into the role of CEO of Making Education, wanting to make a difference by making it different. Christopher shares his love of learning with the team and inspires those around him to engage in meaningful development and engaging in ongoing learning. Christopher also works closely within the Early Learning sector as Director of Education and Development for several services located in the south east of Melbourne where he focuses on the design and implementation of learning programs and quality focused projects for child learning outcomes.