Ed. note: Choosing hardware or software for an entire school district is a momentous decision, so it only makes sense that districts across the country are choosing to pilot products before signing on the dotted line. Here are two case studies of how carefully planned and executed pilots helped districts make informed choices—and improve teaching and learning.
Listen and Learn
Central Falls School District, Rhode Island
Becky Oristaglio, Speech and Language Pathologist
Hearing and understanding what is being said in the classroom play a crucial role in a student’s speech and language development, reading and spelling ability, attention and concentration, and overall academic achievement. Experiencing the impact of poor acoustics in the classroom led me on a journey to create an environment where communication was optimal for students in my charge.
In early 2010, I began the search for the best amplification system to implement in the classrooms of Veterans Memorial Elementary School to improve learning for students with hearing loss and impairments, learning disabilities, and English Language learners. I turned to university-level research and the district’s consulting audiologist for high-quality recommendations on the best system available, and almost everything I read documented Lightspeed Technologies’ Redcat audio system as the system of choice.
I presented the research and my vision for change to the principal, who embraced the idea and gave permission for a trial period. I contacted the local Lightspeed representative to discuss my lofty goal of implementing soundfield systems in all classrooms in the district and requested two trial units. The Lightspeed representative sent three units for trial, came to Veterans School to set up units, and provided instruction on how to use the Redcat.
Piloting one classroom at a time
The system came in three parts — speaker, wearable teacher’s microphone, and a Sharemike handheld student pass-around microphone — which were simple enough that I was able to move the systems between classrooms after one week to give many teachers the opportunity to access the system’s usability and impact on learning and student performance. At the end of the trial, the classroom teacher completed a questionnaire and provided feedback on their experience. At week’s end, teachers were pleading to retain the system, because they noticed their students were more engaged in lessons and distractions were minimal.
My search for a solution that would help students with hearing impairments and learning disabilities and English Language learners led to the realization that being able to hear the teacher clearly benefited every single student in the district. With university research, documented trial data, and teacher/student feedback, the district clearly acknowledged the need for this tool in all classrooms. We made plans to expand our pilot.
Since this sort of technology was not budgeted, the Special Education Director, consulting audiologist, and I wrote a grant asking for funding to pilot the amplification system in every classroom in the school. We received the funding, and in 2010, 29 Lightspeed systems were installed at Veterans Memorial Elementary. Every year since, we’ve added more and more systems to our schools. Today our district has Redcat systems in 127 classrooms. Central Falls recently acquired funding and purchased 16 additional units scheduled for installation in ELL classrooms this summer. I hope to be able to procure the needed 10 soundfield units to fulfill my original goal.
But we’ve gotten more than just hardware. Lightspeed and Central Falls have a close partnership. Every teacher gets troubleshooting tips before implementation, training on how to use the system, and ongoing support.
In addition to each classroom’s Sharemike handheld microphones, we have purchased several additional teacher microphones for our shyest students to wear throughout the day. Hearing their voices amplified and the responses from their peers has increased their confidence, participation, and social interactions, resulting in improved academic performance and the establishment of positive peer relationships.