Sound Barriers

I had an interesting day. I was ''in charge'' as all other leadership was out of the school for the day. I had two school groups coming to look at our interactive whiteboard program and a vendor coming to look at our network regarding an upgrade to our switches and the setting up of a wireless laptop program for our MYLU students. In between those commitments I was going to work on my Internet Safety Night presentation for our parents next week. As Murphy's law would have it, the day didn't turn out like that what with mix ups with relief teachers, looking after spare kids who didn't bring notes for a local excursion, checking that kids who weren't going on camp actually made it to their temporary classrooms and dealing with a misbehaviour issue. So, at the end of the school day, when I suggested to my learning team colleagues that our meeting should be held at the local coffee shop and get away from the school grounds, they agreed.

At this meeting over cappuccinos and Coke, the subject of several disengaged students came up. One teacher observed that when one student was on a computer with a set of headphones on and his choice of website based music going full tilt, his focus on his task improved noticeably and his disruption factor towards other students faded to nothing. The conversation wandered one to the possible use of iPods or any sort of personal mp3 player being a useful tool for these types of kids where they could hide behind a "barrier of sound" that eliminated distraction and temptation when working on their own set work. We talked about the equity issue, the setting of ground rules regarding appropriate use and if this idea would help some students in concentration or whether it just avoided the development of coping skills in the regular classroom environment. I suggested that we open this idea up for discussion in class meetings with the kids and see what they thought as a first step.

Marg, one of my colleagues, suggested that I take it to my learning network, which shows that my colleagues appreciate the power of my online interactions even if they aren't involved with their own. There's been plenty of posting regarding the use of iPods as a mode of instruction but this is a slightly different angle. So, while posing any sort of request to the edublogosphere is a mixture of hope, imposition and assumption, I'm asking any classroom educators or consultants who see a fair bit of classroom life to consider responding via the comments or a trackbacked post on your own blog to the following questions.

Does your school have a policy on iPod use (or equivalent) for students within the classroom?

Have you seen iPods (or equivalent) being used in classrooms?

Have iPods (or equivalent) been used as part of a student's preferred learning style?

Have iPods (or equivalent) helped with students achievement or engagement?

How has the use of iPods (or equivalent) been negotiated within these classrooms?

Any other general comments about our discussion very welcome. We really aren't sure about what approach (if any) to take...

Attribution: Image: '"Studying for class"' by jakebouma
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13 thoughts on “Sound Barriers

  1. dswaters

    Interesting topic and obviously as a TAFE lecturer I can not comment on school kids. However a large portion of my students listen to ipods or music while doing their work at computers – a large portion of them find they can tune out better from interruptions and focus better by listening to their music. If it helps them get on with their work and they are less disruptive, then it benefits all.

    In terms of who is doing great work with ipods to help school students with their work check out Richard Meagher podcasts (sorry – it is refusing to let me insert the links to his sites).

  2. Doug Noon

    I tried this a few years ago in our computer lab with 12 year-olds. No iPods back then, but I let the kids bring CD’s to load into the computers while they worked, hoping they’d do less socializing. Like most things, it was OK for some, and for others it didn’t work out. The novelty of listening to music in school was too interesting for the kids I was targeting, and THAT’s what they focused on. It may be worth trying, but with the understanding that it should help them be more productive. I’m curious to know how this works out.

  3. Annabel

    I think the cafe atmosphere added to our meeting!

    A very good summary of our discussion. It will be very interesting to see what feedback comes back. I think Doug made a good point about interest levels towards the music they are listening to. Will it become another distraction?

    Look forward to following this on your blog.

  4. Darren Draper


    Matt Horne recently wrote an interesting post on his blog ( about his first experiences of podcasting with his ESL classes. I think his experience runs parallel with most teachers that attempt podcasting with the students: a definite struggle, but worth it in the end.

  5. J.D. Williams

    My students are doing a reading project completely on the computers right now. Sometimes I let them listen to music while they’re working and sometimes I don’t. I’d agree about 50% with both sides of this issue. About half my students get the music started then get to work. The other half are constantly changing songs, finding new songs, or they are using and are always trying to set up their playlists. So, I think it either depends on the student, or depends on whether or not they have a playlist set up.

    My school does have an ipod/cell phone policy. Can’t have them at school. It’s a battle I don’t fight with them. If I see an ipod or a cell phone I tell them to put it away. If they are using it in class I take it and if it’s a first offense they get it back at the end of the period. Second offense I send it down to the office and a parent has to come pick it up. I’d keep them myself until parents show up, but those are expensive items and we have some students that tend to walk away with things that aren’t theirs. I don’t want to be held responsible.

  6. Ewan McIntosh

    Our policy in East Lothian is ‘adapted’ (read: changed *a lot*) by the Head Teachers in each school. However, the most successful learning is taking place where students’ own devices – iPods, mobiles (which often have the same functionality), PDAs, Nintendos – can be used in the school areas and, where the teacher sees a good use, in the classroom.

    Ideally we would see more learners being given the power to bring out the tool they feel fits the task, without the permission giving of the teacher.

    As for creating podcasts, *huge* benefits for almost every subject I can think of. Kids can feed back into the education of their peers, too, by sharing their take on their learning for later years.

    The quotes I get from kids and pop on the blog now and then reveal that they enjoy the challenge of the task and the authenticity of having real people get real benefit out of their show. Just scratching the surface here, but wish you luck in your venture and would love to see how things develop through the blog.

  7. Kim Cofino

    We have a “no iPods” policy at our school, but I admit that I break the rules – only because I see a huge difference in behavior and focus when I allow students to listen to their own music.

    I still treat it as a privilege, not a right, so they must ask me before they can bring out their iPods, but I almost never say no. I notice that those who ask me to use their iPod can concentrate better when they don’t have classroom distractions. I have also noticed that students that tend to be a distraction to others will happily use their iPod and “magically” turn into the perfect student – focusing on their own work and leaving other students alone.

    I personally, find it much easier to concentrate when listening to the music of my choice, rather than the distraction of other voices. If it helps me, why shouldn’t I let it help my students?

  8. Rachel Boyd

    In a weird co-incidence I was reading your blog, was going to make a comment; but then decided dinner had to take priority…. only to return to see that I had missed your skype message… will catch you another time.

    Anyway, back to the ipod business:
    At our primary school juniors are not allowed to bring ipods/expensive electrical stuff to school; middles and seniors are able to bring it with teacher & home’s permission.

    I have my ipod in class with the kids so they can listen to podcasts etc sometimes during group rotation time.

    As an aside, cell phones are a complete ban in case you were wondering. However when we watched “Pay Attention” at our staff meeting last month I did see a couple of teacher’s prick their ears up at the thought of using them.

    Cheers, Rachel

  9. Miss Profe

    There is a no-iPods policy at the school where I teach in classrooms and in study halls. However, when students are on break, then they may use them.

    That being said, I have allowed students to listen to music as they are taking a test. Honestly, I have not measured the impact – postive or negative- on their test scores. Something to consider for the following year.

  10. Lindsay Skiera

    At the school I teach at there is a ban on ipods and cell phones. Personally, I agree with the ban on cell phones during school hours, but think that ipod use shoud be at the teachers disgression. Many students need music to help them concentrate or relax and think. How many teachers put music on the radio when their class is working? Why shouldn’t the kids be able to listen to their own music if they are not distracting anyone else and are on task. However, in order to this to work the teachers must strictly enforce that students may only use ipods after getting permission from the teahcers. If they are using them at inappropriate times, (i.e during instruction) they will lose their privelages at all times. Another topic that has to be addressed before allowing ipods is volume and sharing headphones. These are two things that should be closely monitored. All in all, as long as there are strict rules that are enforced about ipod use I think it would be a good thing to allow in the classroom.

  11. Darren Draper

    Why must student iPod use be limited to music? Why must student mobile phone use be limited to texting friends and other non-academic purposes?

    It seems to me that if we are truly as creative as we think we are (as teachers) then we can surely come up with more educational uses for such devices.

    For a few excellent examples, spend a little time on Tony Vincent’s site: .

    Music and text messaging are just the beginning.

  12. Mike Reading


    Just wondering if a couple years down the track you have any follow-up on the issue of engagement behind a sound barrier (interesting title)? I am in the middle of experimenting with what music helps with learning…it would appear that some music whilst keeps the students quiet might actually decrease their capacity to engage with the subject.

    1. Graham Wegner

      G’day Mike,
      I suppose what I’ve settled on in the classroom is a bit of a casual agreement with students about the use of ipods and music within the classroom. iPods are only used when the student is about to work on an individual task that doesn’t require teacher instruction or discussion with class mates. It could be an art lesson, typing up a piece of writing, reading a book and it can’t distract anyone else around them. This seems to work although I can’t say that it produces better or worse work except it seems to keep the prone to distraction kids on task and away from bothering others who are trying to get their own work done.


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