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Enhancing Small Group Instruction Through Audio Technology

New technology enables teachers to communicate clearly to all students and facilitates student collaboration

Audio plays a crucial role in making collaborative student learning environments effective. Students need to be able to communicate with their teacher when necessary, and teachers should be able to hear what all students are saying during small group instruction. This web seminar, originally presented on April 2, 2014, featured educators from Andover USD 385 in Kansas, who discussed how classroom audio solutions have enhanced small group instruction, improved student communication skills and led to improved student learning.

Shaun Fagan 
Product Manager
Lightspeed Technologies

As a company, Lightspeed has always believed communication between teachers and students is paramount to learning. We want equal access for all students. Our classroom audio solutions are designed to ensure that every student, regardless of their location, can clearly hear what the teacher is saying. Countless studies report that when students can clearly hear their teacher, they are more focused and on task. This translates into improved learning. More and more classrooms today are set up for collaboration and interactivity. Teachers move around to small groups and facilitate discussions. Students create their own knowledge and develop 21-st century skills. Some teachers have 25-30 students of all different levels working in small groups on separate tasks. How are teachers supposed to know what is really going on in all of these groups? How can teachers manage all of these students and meet them at their point of need in real time? Teachers need tools to effectively differentiate instruction. It is critical for them to be able to monitor and assess these small group activities. As a teacher, how do I know who is participating and who is not? Who is getting it and who is not? Teachers want to understand how students solve problems, but management of small groups can be a challenge. Lightspeed’s Flexcat creates the experience of a single teacher being in multiple small groups at the same time.

The system consists of a teacher microphone and ear-piece; each student group gets a small tabletop speaker pod. This creates a two-way communication link between the teacher and student groups. The teacher can monitor groups, redirect off-task behavior, reinforce on-task behavior, and be there to encourage collaboration. Flexcat also provides clear communication in whole group instruction. The Flexcat speaker delivers crystal clear sound throughout the classroom. As students divide into small groups, the teacher has the ability to address each speaker pod individually. Teachers have the ability to monitor the groups by using a remote control to select a specific group, and listen in on that group’s pod through the earpiece. Since Flexcat allows for two-way communication, if a teacher sees a group is off task, he or she can quickly speak to them through the pod and redirect without needing to physically walk over. Students also have the ability to speak into their pod and have all other groups hear what they are saying.

Andrea Friend 
Science Teacher
Andover Middle School

Ninety percent of my class time is spent on group collaboration. Usually I use my Lightspeed audio system to give directions to the class as a whole and then switch into small group work. Lightspeed’s audio tools have transformed my classroom and allow me to run my class this way. I like to be able to listen in on students discussing what needs to be done during a lab; students also can quickly and easily get my attention through the Flexcat system if they have a question.

Stacey Ryan 
Math Teacher
Andover Middle School

This is so much more than a classroom audio system. I use Flexcat in everything I do. I can use it during wholeclass daily instruction to amplify my voice. I never have to raise my voice to be heard. I can also hand my microphone to my students, so everyone can hear what they are saying before we split into small groups. I also use it during group collaboration. In my class, students do daily-practice skill sheets and investigations in small groups. This product has allowed me to incorporate a lot more of these types of activities, which is essential for aligning with the CCSS. This increases rigor in our classroom because I am able to redesign instruction to be more collaborative, investigative and project-based.

Friend: I was able to put the Flexcat together and use it the day it arrived. The system simply takes a little charging. Within a few minutes, the students understood the product and wanted to use it.

Ryan: I noticed a few students who struggle in every class except mine. I know a big part of that is because of Flexcat. It meets their needs. These are students who do not complete their homework for other classes and do not like their other classes. When I got new speakers for my Flexcat, these students gave up their lunch time to set it up without me asking.

Friend: Flexcat benefits all students. I have had students with auditory disabilities, who prefer Flexcat to their hearing aids. Middle school kids with auditory issues do not necessarily like others to know they have a hearing aid. Flexcat allows some of these students to avoid this embarrassment and “be like everyone else.” Students ask their other teachers why they do not have Flexcats, because of how much they like the system. They like that they can hear their teacher and easily ask questions.

Ryan: Adults may think they have loud voices and do not need a Flexcat. However, the sound quality of a Flexcat is exceptional. The pods are easily portable, so they can be used outside the classroom in bigger areas. A whole group can be taken out into the hall. The system can also be used to amplify sound to a large group, such as when a guest speaker comes to talk to an entire grade.

Friend: I do not have issues with students making snide comments during group work, because they know I am listening. It has really changed the atmosphere in my classroom. I feel I have happier students because I do not have the bullying issues I once had.

Ryan: In a group of four, you may have one student who is trying to get the others off task. Flexcat eliminates that because students know the teacher is listening. Students want teachers to “catch” them being on task. Students are more aware of their own participation and group collaboration. They manage themselves and stay on task.

Friend: If I click into a group and hear a student comment on a high-level concept, I can tell them to share that with the whole class. Students get an enormous amount of pride from this recognition.

Ryan: Our students’ communication skills have really changed. They have learned to be specific and concise in their communications. Instead of saying “I don’t want to do this,” when they know I may be across the room and can’t see what is going on, they specifically explain what they need. That enhances their higher level thinking skills and classroom productivity.

Dyane Smokorowski 
Instructional Technology Trainer
Andover USD 385 (Kansas)

Our district’s goal is to provide the best tools for students. We investigate any company that offers products that provide dynamic, authentic learning experiences. We want our students to feel successful, and Flexcat does this.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws040214