Focus is an important skill that helps every child accomplish specific tasks at school. Distractions are common in any classroom and managing them is an essential part of the learning process. However, with many modern schools transitioning to the concept of open plan classrooms, students have to cope with excessive noise and other distractions, which can negatively impact their concentration and comprehension levels.

There are many benefits associated with open plan learning spaces. For instance, teachers have the flexibility to more easily run group-based activities requiring students across multiple classrooms to collaborate with one another. While this may work for larger group activities, the open plan space can become a distracting liability when students are required to take part in critical listening activities in small groups or when working on their own.

Many schools have discovered the advantages of installing acoustic curtains that can be flexibly used to create segmented and adaptable classroom spaces within the open plan area, helping reduce classroom noise and cut down line-of-sight distractions.

Acoustic curtains can simply be opened when students are brought together for group activities involving collaborative learning, and drawn to create flexible learning spaces and alleviate visual distraction when they are encouraged to focus on a specific task.

Flexible learning spaces in action

For children to succeed as learners, it’s important that they are able to focus by successfully managing their distractions, observes Paul Wellham of St Philip’s Christian College, Newcastle.

As Head of Junior School at the independent non-denominational Christian college, Wellham has overseen the installation of acoustic curtains in a large, open plan learning space in the school’s new building. Not only have the curtains made the teaching program flexible, but they have also helped reduce the impact of distracting sights and sounds on the students’ ability to concentrate.

“We have three classes per year level in the Junior School and flexible learning environments so the children aren’t in separate classrooms,” Wellham explains. “The building was completed in 2018 and what we discovered over the ensuing 18 months or so was that we needed to have greater flexibility over the open plan space by zoning off areas of the open classroom. That’s where the acoustic curtains have helped.”

The acoustic curtains remain closed at the start of the day so students can take part in a couple of hours of literacy learning classes. The curtains are then opened for project-based learning across the year level, during which time, students work on multi-disciplinary projects and the teachers assist as a team. They can be kept open for any other project-based learning activities involving the entire year level.

“The curtains offer great adaptability – it’s the definition of what classroom flexibility is about,” Wellham says.

Multiple benefits

Sound-absorbing wall murals and other elements were installed to reduce noise when the new building was fitted out at the school. The installation of the curtains has further improved the acoustic properties of the open plan learning space used by students. In addition to sound absorption, the curtains also reduce visual distraction by breaking up the students’ line of sight so they aren’t disturbed by a neighbouring class when involved in class-based activities.

Wellham says that feedback from the teachers using the space has been overwhelmingly positive. The new acoustic curtains, they report, not only reduce visual distraction, but are also easy to operate. The curtains have been installed in a range of colours that complement the décor of each room.

“Our teachers have adapted well to some of the challenges of the space previously, but now they really appreciate the flexibility – and the learning benefits – offered by the acoustic curtains.”

Acoustic Blinds and Curtains is a provider of quality sound-absorbent products that can reduce noise levels and improve acoustics in classrooms and other open plan spaces.