Kids’ hearing gives clues on learning
Freddie Schroder, 7, and teacher Robin Lemmens use headphones in a lesson. Photo / Richard Robinson
The answer to why girls and boys reach different levels of achievement in the classroom is all in the ears, researchers have found.
American educator and psychologist Doctor JoAnn Deak, who spoke at the annual Auckland Primary Principal’s Association conference this week, says she has found the hairs in girls’ ears are more sensitive than those in boys’.
She says teachers should pitch their voice differently to cater for the sexes.
In the past year, two New Zealand schools Kings School in Auckland and Waikato Diocesan have acted on her research, believing it could be an important part of advancing their students’ learning.
Dr Deak adapts the latest brain research to educators so that they can better understand their students.
“Males and females are as different from the neck up to the neck down,” she said.
The microscopic hairs in females’ ears are more sensitive than those in males’, meaning girls are more likely to absorb information when spoken to in a softer, calmer voice, Dr Deak said.
“A screaming, angry father will destroy the hairs of the ears and that is linked to emotion, it erodes self esteem,” Dr Deak said.
Boys, on the other hand, respond to volume and affirmation in their teacher’s voice.
“If in a co-ed school teachers have to pitch just high enough for the boy and soft enough for the girls,” she said.
She said teachers were faced with a huge responsibility as they were the one profession in charge of growing the brains of the future.
The standard of education in New Zealand was “very good” but could easily be “kicked into the exquisite”, she said.
Last year Tony Sissons, headmaster of Kings School, invited Dr Deak to share her research with his teachers and pupils.
She helped teachers pitch and project their voices for boys.
But as with all brain research, Dr Deak explained 20 per cent of the population does not fit the mould there will always be some boys in the class who will learn more like girls and vice versa.
Following the visit the school adapted its resources to the research and now language lessons are recorded on tapes that are played through speakers in all four corners of the classrooms.
And realising the importance of hearing to learning, it also invested in sound-proof language labs and headphone sets that block out outside noise but protect the hairs of the ear.
Mr Sissons said about 60 per cent of teachers at Kings School were women but rather than being linked to a teacher’s gender, the research was about understanding how anyone’s teaching could be altered to better cater for all boys needs.
He said all trainee teachers should be exposed to the fresh brain research.
“The information coming through MRI scanning is absolutely critical for the teaching profession to understand,” he said.
On this year’s visit Dr Deak also visited Waikato Diocesan. Principal Vicky McLennan said she provided proven research to validate what most teachers instinctively knew.
The school learned that girls need to believe that their teacher really cares about them. And girls also need to be encouraged to take risks to interact with girls outside their group of friends and study subjects outside their natural bent.
“All these things suggest to me that teachers in co-ed schools have to be very careful in differentiating between boys and girls,” she said.
But president of the Auckland Primary Principals Association Marilyn Gwilliam said teachers were already trained well to teach with gender differences in mind as most primary schools in New Zealand are co-educational.
She did not believe the idea of pitching the voice differently would have a great impact on co-ed teachers because pupils spend most of the day working in small groups so there is already an opportunity to cater for differences.