I've been interested in minimalism lately and that coupled with some history reading about Claude Shannon, "the father of information theory", has made me really interested in the application of noise and signals in a classroom.
I recently got one of the original books on the subject, but haven't had time to read through it yet. So instead, I found this quote as a jumping off point on Wikipedia.
"The formal study of the information content of signals is the field of information theory. The information in a signal is usually accompanied by noise. The term noise usually means an undesirable random disturbance, but is often extended to include unwanted signals conflicting with the desired signal (such as crosstalk). The prevention of noise is covered in part under the heading of signal integrity."
Since we are all trying to communicate certain things to students in a classroom, knowing a little bit about noise and signals can't hurt. Getting the signals right is pretty much what teacher training is all about. Teachers generally spend a lot of time becoming prepared to communicate messages to students in the classroom. Those messages might be on math, English, science, or simply what homework is due tomorrow.
However, I believe those signals are being lost in a sea of noise. Remember that noise is simply any data this is unwanted, irrelevant, or competing with the desired signal. So if the desired signal to a group of students is about solving calculus integrals, noise is anything that makes receiving that signal difficult. In a classroom, noise can come from:
Everything above can be an example of something making it difficult to hear what the teacher is saying. Many disciplines that talk about noise and signal discuss the signal-to-noise ratio. The higher the ratio the clearer the signal and that's good.
Since you can view it as a ratio, that means you can make it larger in two ways
In the classroom, you can increase the signal by yelling, using clearer PowerPoint presentations, using a microphone, using color, or anything else teacher training has given you as a tool to make your signal louder.
On the other hand, you can focus on decreasing the noise. This is the area I think most classrooms fail rather miserably, especially primary and secondary school. Rather than yelling or finding other ways to always beat the noise, just try getting rid of it. An easy place to start is all the junk on the walls. This is distracting and noisy. Take it down.
Reducing the day's to-do list is another way to reduce the noise. If there is a million things to get done in one class, it is difficult for students to pick up which signal is most important. Instead they will just drown in all the incoming messages and chalk them all up to noise. This is a waste of effort for many teachers.
The more I think about noise and signal, the more I see their application to everything I do in life. You can always add more and more signals, but it won't matter if you can't hear them over the noise of your life. This is where the minimalism I mentioned at the very beginning of this post comes into play. Becoming a minimalist and getting rid of everything non-essential is the first step in turning down the noise. Maybe then you and your students will actually be able to hear the signals you've been trying to send.