Can White Noise Help Struggling Students Stay Focused in the Classroom? 

If you’ve been following trends on social media where people are talking about strategies and tools to help them focus, be productive, be mindful, and less stressed in their daily lives, you’ve surely heard about white noise. It’s basically a static-like noise that blocks out ambient sounds, like noise from neighbors or surrounding desks in an office space. 

Playing white noise on speakers or headphones is said to help people focus on their tasks and eliminate unnecessary distractions from the environment. It’s become so popular that there are endless YouTube and Spotify playlists featuring white noise, brown noise, or pink noise, and countless apps have emerged in digital stores that aim to help you be more concentrated, more productive, less anxious, or less stressed. 

What are the benefits of white noise?

Recent research suggests that white noise can be helpful for children and adults struggling with ADHD, anxiety, or sleep disorders. White noise reportedly improves focus and productivity because it drowns out ambient noise, which can be incredibly distracting for ADHD sufferers. Attention deficit disorders make it difficult to find concentration and can make simple tasks become overwhelming and challenging. 

This is especially true in the classroom, where children struggling with ADHD can often find it difficult to perform at the same level as their peers, simply because it’s hard for them to stay focused for longer periods of time. Any movement of a pencil, someone coughing or humming, or someone scribbling on paper can become overwhelming for a student with ADHD, causing them to lose focus and become frustrated. So, how can white noise help?

Know your colors: the different types of ambient noise

There are different types of ambient noise that can have an impact on the listener’s brain. However, the overall consensus in the scientific world is that they all produce a similar effect on the listener, so it’s ok to choose based on preference alone. 

  • White noise: sounds pretty much just like static. It mixes sounds of every audible frequency, and has a fizzling, almost screeching sound. For a lot of people, white noise can be too screechy and too high in frequency.
  • Pink noise: a softer, smoother version of white noise. Lower frequencies are more amped up than in white noise, sounding similar to rainfall or a lawn sprinkler. 
  • Brown noise: Just like white noise, brown noise plays all audible frequencies, but with an emphasis on low frequencies. It sounds deeper and denser, slightly bass-heavy, similar in sound to wind on a snow-capped mountain or a crackling fireplace. 
  • Lesser-known varieties include violet noise, which is similar to brown noise, but with more emphasis on the higher notes, and gray noise, which is similar to white noise, but a lot smoother. 

How does white noise work?

White or brown noise is incredibly useful if you’re looking to drown out surrounding ambient noise, like noise from your neighbors or coworkers, traffic, electronics, and so on. It’s actually been used in courtrooms for more than a decade, to keep sidebar talks private, according to The New York Times

When talking about white noise, most researchers quote ‘stochastic resonance,’ a theory suggesting that white noise enables the human brain to tune into hard-to-hear sounds. Turning on ambient noise can help people hear and focus on stimuli that otherwise would go unnoticed. But it can also help tune out internal sounds, aka the voices in your head. 

Thoughts and worries can take over and distract people from what they need to be focusing on, triggering anxiety, frustration, low productivity, and overall a negative mental state. White or brown noise can help drown out both external and internal distractions, and can have a calming and soothing effect that enables deep focus, relaxation, and concentration. It can even help you fall asleep at night. 

Can white noise benefit those with ADHD?

For ADHD sufferers, white noise can be even more impactful. Researchers have conducted several studies trying to see how white noise affects children with reading disabilities and ADHD. One test required children with reading disabilities to complete a 30-minute test; those who had white noise playing in the background reportedly performed better in the test compared to those who didn’t. 

The explanation behind it suggests that those with ADHD struggle to filter out stimuli through their prefrontal cortex, stimuli that other people have no issue filtering out. Small chatter, the sound of pen on paper, or flashing images on a screen can be very distracting to ADHD sufferers, particularly children. 

Another study showed that white noise can improve reading skills and memory recall in struggling students. Two groups were put to the test: one consisting of skilled readers, and another consisting of children with orthographic reading problems and phonological decoding problems. The results show that white noise had a positive impact on struggling children, helping them perform reading-related tasks better than they otherwise would. And there are other studies that suggest the same thing, highlighting the benefits.

At the same time, not everyone reacts positively to white or brown noise. In fact, many children in control groups found it distracting or screechy, like static or nails on a chalkboard. So, how can you, as a teacher, incorporate ambient noise in the classroom to the benefit of all the students in your classrooms? 

How to incorporate white noise in your classroom

The options for educators nowadays are plentiful. There are sound machines that can play white noise, brown noise, pink noise, ocean sounds, rain sounds, bird sounds, wind, or even the sound of a slow-moving train. 

There are also countless videos on YouTube and playlists on Spotify that you can play on a laptop connected to speakers in the classroom. Or, you can connect these speakers to your smartphone and use one of the numerous white noise apps available in the app stores. 

Try out different things, different sounds, and see how the students in your classroom react. Try being mindful of the children struggling with ADHD in your classroom, and try to figure out a seating arrangement that has them positioned closer to the speakers or the source of the ambient noise. 

However, there might be students who will feel distracted, or even annoyed by white or brown noise, so it’s important to cater to their needs, as well. If you find that not everyone in the classroom is a fan of white noise, allow children with ADHD or those who want it to wear headphones or earbuds that play white or brown noise during lessons. Just make sure that the volume is not too loud as to block out instructions by the teacher. Experiment and see if it works for the students in your classroom. 

Looking for more tips and strategies to better serve the needs of the students in your classroom? Follow Da Vinci Collaborative and reach out to our team with any questions. We’re always eager to hear from you!

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