A Different Kind of NOISE


Communication is the process of transmitting information from one person to another. Noise is any type of disruption that interferes with the transmission or interpretation of information from the sender to the receiver.1

Semantic noise in communication is a type of disturbance in the transmission of a message that interferes with the interpretation of the message due to ambiguity in words, sentences or symbols used in the transmission of the message.2

Psychological noise results from preconceived notions we bring to conversations, such as racial stereotypes, reputations, biases, and assumptions. When we come into a conversation with ideas about what the other person is going to say and why, we can easily become blinded to their original message.3

There are other types of noise such as physiological, cultural and organizational. More information on these can be found in the sources cited below. However, the most important take away in this blog comes in the following sentence.

The efficacy of communication is impacted by how much noise there is in the communication channel.4

There is noise all around us, all of the time and it is not just physical noise.

Given  a typical school classroom, where communication from one person to another/others  is the main vehicle of transmitting information, understanding the impact of various noises can be helpful. Teachers and their students are not immune to noise and distractions. In fact, as a former teacher, I can attest to the constant efforts teachers make to keep distractions to a minimum. However, those are obvious noises like talking, managing books/materials, doors and windows, office interruptions, unannounced classroom visitors, and school bells and alarms.

Less obvious noises are those described in the opening paragraph. For young people, multiple noises are competing with one another as they attempt to “pay attention” in class. They may be distracted by unclear or unfamiliar words they hear. They may be distracted by facial expressions from the teacher and fellow classmates. Their memory may distract them as they recall past learning experiencing both successful and unsuccessful. They are most often distracted with their perceived failures. They are trained early on that making their teacher happy is the goal – getting the right answer is the goal – being smart is the goal. That is quite a bit of NOISE to overcome.

Teachers often repeat directions, rephrase questions, and redirect students to the lesson at hand. Some students appear attentive, yet when questioned regarding the presented material, they struggle to understand. At times, teachers assume that their students are not really listening, or perhaps they are just under-performing. Whatever the teacher diagnoses, students are hoping for a personal breakthrough that will suddenly illuminate the embarrassing darkness of not being able to properly respond.

Good teachers spend hours preparing and gathering materials for their lessons. They may even jot down great questions that ask students to think more deeply. They stand/sit and deliver with the best intentions and yet there are still many students who respond with a blank stare. If one were to ask a teacher the percentage of students who “get it” the first time they present or ask about the learning objective, the number would be quite low. From years of observing students interacting with teachers/lessons via responding to questions posed, I would venture to say that 5-10% of students demonstrated enough “attentiveness” to provide a correct or thoughtful response. Why is this the case?

When teachers frame their understanding of learning with the “other kind of noise factor” in mind, they will be better prepared for what can/will happen. Below are a few important questions teachers can ask themselves.

  • Do all of my students know that I genuinely care about them?
  • Do all of my students feel safe with me?
  • Are my words clear and precise?
  • Am I talking too much?
  • Do I allow frequent student talk?
  • Do I use other forms of communication besides my voice?
  • Do I model cognition?
  • Do I engage my students with thought-provoking questions?
  • Does it appear that I only want the right answer?
  • Do I consider and honor the individual learning differences of every student?
  • Do I demonstrate respect and attentiveness?
  • Do I refrain from bias labeling of students based on their performance or behavior?
  • Am I committed to facilitating the learning of those students in my care, whatever it takes?

Please be mindful of the noise that we may not hear -the kind of noise that has the potential to hijack real learning.

Worth repeating and food for thought: The efficacy of communication is impacted by how much noise there is in the communication channel.


  1. Communication
  2. Semantic Noise
  3. Psychological Noise
  4.  Communication Efficacy

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