‘Quiet Hour’ – Varying Sensory Stimulation

A supermarket trolley and stocked shelves.
Vary sensory stimulation to make learning accessible to all students. Image: Tumisu on Pixabay.

In 2018, Coles Supermarkets expanded a trial of their Quiet Hour. Quiet Hour provides a low-sensory shopping experience by making changes in store, such as reducing noise and distractions. These changes are designed to help make a difference to customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened-sensory environment. We can relate this to Universal Design for Learning. 

Coles partnered with Aspect to develop the program. The aim is to support customers who are, or have family members, on the autism spectrum. During Quiet Hour, the supermarkets’:

      • Store lighting is reduced
      • Coles Radio is turned down
      • Register and scanner volumes are reduced to the lowest level
      • No trolley collections
      • Roll cages are removed from the shop floor
      • No PA announcements are made except in the case of emergencies
      • Additional team members are available to support customers

This is UDL checkpoint 7.3: Minimise Threats and Distractions

CAST, the home of UDL, explain that one of the most important things an educator can do is to create a safe space for learners. To do this, teachers need to reduce potential threats and distractions in the learning environment. When learners have to focus their attention on having basic needs met or avoiding a negative experience they cannot concentrate on the learning process.

The physical safety of a learning environment is of course necessary. But subtler types of threats and distractions must be attended to as well. What is threatening or potentially distracting depends on learners’ individual needs and background. For example, an English Language Learner might find language experimentation threatening, while some learners might find too much sensory stimulation distracting.

The optimal instructional environment has options to reduce threats and negative distractions. It’s about creating a safe space for everyone in which learning can occur.

 Practical Strategies

    • Creating an accepting and supportive classroom climate
    • Changing up the level of novelty or risk through
    • Including charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, cues, etc. that can increase the predictability of daily activities and transitions
    • Creating predictability through class routines
    • Alerting and previewing so that learners can anticipate and prepare for changes in activities, schedules, and novel events
    • Providing options that can, in contrast to the above, maximize the unexpected, surprising, or novel in highly routine activities
    • Varying the level of sensory stimulation by providing variation in the presence of background noise or visual stimulation, noise buffers, number of features or items presented at a time
    • Options for the pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks or time-outs, or timing or sequence of activities
    • Considering the social demands required for learning or performance, the perceived level of support and protection and the requirements for public display and evaluation
    • Involving all participants in whole-class discussions 

Connect to Your Practice

How could you enhance the sense of safety and support in your learning environment? Consider one or two ways that could reduce threat or discomfort for your learners. Small changes result in huge outcomes for learners in accessing their learning.

See more in this latest collection of posts, where illustrations of universal design (the design for ease and accessibility in the community) are shared. The goal is to connect these to ways we can design teaching strategies to ensure access to learning for all students.

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