There are many reasons children may appear distracted or inattentive in the classroom, but a Wichita State University professor has found that one of them may be that teachers are talking too quickly (pdf). Ray Hull, an audiology professor, has found that most adults speak at a rate of 170 words per minute while most 5-7 year olds process speech at a maximum of 120 words per minute.
That gap could account for some of the challenges teachers identify in the classroom, and could even represent the real cause behind problems attributed to attention, learning disabilities or behavioural problems. Fortunately, Hull offers some simple solutions and practical advice.
The iconic Mr. Rogers always spoke at a fairly slow and steady clip. Before reading this article I never thought much about that, and if I did, I probably just thought it was meant as a soothing tone. Certainly, Mr. Rogers was very successful as the host of a children’s show, something that hasn’t escaped Professor Hull. “There’s a reason children were so captivated and mesmerized by Mr Rogers,” he says. “He may have been one of the only adults children were able to understand.”
That said, the simple solution is to speak more slowly around children. The professor points out that, “If teachers would slow down, they would be less frustrated, the children would be less frustrated, and children would learn with greater ease.”
I also find it interesting that even by high school, students are still only processing speech at 140-145 words per minute, well short of the typical adult pace of speaking. Of course, adjusting ourselves to speak more slowly is not an easy task, and one that we might think sounds funny.
But if it saves us from having to repeat ourselves over and over again, it seems like it’s worth at least trying it out.