Having worked with many children with ADHD, one of the most useful techniques I’ve learned (from an ex-colleague) is to change my speaking volume to regulate students’ behaviours. By speaking louder, I can make my learners more excited about their work; by speaking softer, I can get these same students to focus better. However, it is more than just changing the volume at random. How exactly does it work, and why?
Speaking at the default volume (aka ‘Goldilocks Volume’): Not too soft, not too loud
This is the volume I use for 70%-80% of a therapy session. It is my usual speaking voice. At this volume, I carry out the bulk of my presentations. I also speak at this level when giving instructions, sharing information and building rapport with students.
My general rule is that I use this volume for regular speech. If the student is able to listen attentively, I will continue to speak at this volume.
Speaking at a lower volume
Students with ADHD can get distracted easily. To re-capture their attention, I will lower my volume and make a remark like “Now, let’s see what happens next.” This is the same volume that you use when you’re telling someone a secret or something really important.
Lowering your volume signals the importance of what you’re saying. When your volume suddenly drops, you’re doing three things. Firstly, you’re encouraging the child to bring their focus back to you, because they have to strain their ears to listen to what you’re saying. Secondly, you’re modelling for them. You’re signalling to them that what you’re saying is important, but you’re not raising your voice to make yourself heard. You are subconsciously telling them that you don’t have to raise your voice to get the message across. Lastly, by lowering your voice, you’re demonstrating calmness and reducing the overall energy level in the room. Children and teenagers are very sensitive to these energies, and they can feel it when the level drops. They will respond accordingly by focusing on you once more.
You can even speak slowly when your volume drops, stressing on important keywords while doing so. This provides greater clarity to what you’re saying, and adds a dramatic effect. Children will subconsciously pick up on the change in pace and tone, focusing on those words. In fact, there were times when I unintentionally spoke too softly, and students who were distracted would actually ask, “Uh, Teacher Shaun, can you repeat that again?” It’s funny because it wasn’t intentional, but it definitely got them back on track.
Speaking at a raised volume
I will raise my speaking volume to emphasise a point, or to break the monotony (as part of an activity or story). Usually, this is a sudden burst, like an interjection. It works best when the student is already focused on me. For example, when telling a story, I may stress on words like ‘Hey’, as in ‘“Hey, stop!” yelled the cop.’
Raising the volume helps to remind the child of your presence. Again, it’s best used as an interjection to break the monotony of the default volume, and to draw the child’s attention back to you.
Keeping students focused with volume control
With my students, they’re usually able to stay focused on what I’m saying, in spite of external distractions. This is because they have learned to regulate their own behaviours (see my previous post on conditioning students with ADHD). Furthermore, by constantly varying my volume levels, I can ensure a controlled amount of energy at the table — not too much energy and not too little, but just enough to have students participate actively without losing focus.
At Swords & Stationery, we use techniques like volume control to minimise potential behavioural issues. This trick of varying volume levels to maintain the child’s focus has been very helpful to me, but it should work well even outside of the classroom, for instance when giving instructions to the child in a social setting. I am a strong, ardent believer that with the right set of techniques, children and teenagers can overcome the obstacles brought about by learning difficulties such as ADHD. The mental fortitude of the younger generation should not be underestimated.