Girls lose out in noisy classrooms

Noise in the classroom disturbs girls more than boys, a new Swedish study has revealed.

“We have seen that they tend to lose more knowledge,” said Eva Boman, a researcher at Gävle college.

Boman has led two separate studies where the ability to comprehend a text in the presence of noise was measured on children in the fifth and seventh grades.

32 boys and 32 girls aged 13-14 took part in one study, while 129 children aged 11-12 were tested in the other.

In both studies, half of the pupils worked in silence and the others were in the presence of verbal noise. One of the tasks was to read a passage about a foreign culture and then answer memory and comprehension questions.

The result showed that the girls’ ‘episodic’ memory ability, relating to what took place and when, was reduced more than that of the boys when they were exposed to conversational noise.

“The episodic memory is when they learn completely new things. When the girls try to recall the learning moment, they don’t do so well,” said Eva Boman, a lecturer in environmental psychology at Gävle college.

At the same time, it has been well documented that girls generally perform better at school than boys – leading Eva Boman to say that she was surprised by the results.

“Women and girls are also have better episodic memories. We thought that girls would benefit from this and be affected less than boys,” she said.

The study also showed that girls need to make more effort to learn in the presence of conversational noise. The re-read and repeat what they have read to themselves more than boys.

“But they don’t get any satisfaction with these strategies,” said Eva Boman.

The main question, she said, is how the noise level in schools can be reduced.

“It’s hard to take away conversational noise with purely technical solutions – it’s part of school life. The problem is that the brain must interpret the signals in the noise. Students and teachers ought to try and come to some agreement about how to reduce noise,” said Boman.

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TT/The Local