I have seen groups teachers faced with issues, or a problem that needs 'solving' turn the situation into a 'talk fest' and of course passion and multiple agendas fuel this in many cases. However when our ability to talk outweighs our ability to listen we need to assess if we are really thinking clearly?
Thinking about this made me reflect on the fact that we teach our students, to read, to write, to speak and to present, but do we actually teach them to listen? Are we more concerned about literacy focus areas that have measurable outcomes, reading levels and writing samples?
If we don't teach listening then how do we expect them to listen.
Is listening actually just the time we spend waiting to talk or is it something more?
Hearing and listening are two very different things, hearing refers to the sound that you hear but listening requires focus and attention. Listening involves being aware of tone and voice, of the way language is being used, of body language, the verbal and non verbal messages. Understanding what is being said will directly affect someones ability to listen.
We need to ensure that our students learn to think about what they have heard before they feel like they have to respond. They need time to think, to ask questions to clarify their understanding. Time to talk to someone, using simple strategies like 'Turn and Talk' or 'Elbow Partners' give students the opportunity to ask questions and clarify understanding without feeling judged, the strategy 'He/She said...' to report back to the group/class is also a way to build a safe environment and encourages students to take risks when speaking as they are giving voice to someone else's opinion.
Self awareness and motivation to want to listen, delaying the desire to speak and allowing ourselves time to think and understand are key concepts or big ideas that require students to consciously decide to listen. Effective listening takes concentration and can be hard, I think we under estimate just how difficult it can be to listen effectively.
Learning to listen is a skill that needs development and refinement in the same way learning to read or write does. We need to listen for ideas not just words, understanding the whole picture or the big idea of what is being said. Making connections between the bits and pieces and being to build the connections to develop understanding underpins successful listening.
So what can we do to teach students to listen? Show them what listening is!
1. No Repeats
Give instructions once .... don't go from repeating instruction 3 or 4 times in one day, but be aware of reducing the number of times you say the same thing. Encourage students to 'Ask two before me..' to clarify understanding, this encourages students to keep attentive, they expect you to repeat yourself... so why listen the first or even second time?
2. Using Hand Signals
Decided on an agreed hand signal so that students can show you they don't understand what is being said. A simple thumbs up, on the side our turned down is easy and works well.
3. Value Listening
Make it known that you value listening, encourage students to think about what is being said, let them talk to a buddy, encourage clarifying questions, paraphrase and use images to support language to increase opportunities for understanding.
4. Ask questions
Provide question starters to support students, model questioning by asking clarifying questions. Pause and give students time to think about their questions, to make links between prior knowledge, new ideas and possibilities.
Think about effective listening ... is it that they can't or don't listen... or is it that we haven't taught them to listen? Do we give them authentic opportunities to demonstrate that they are effective listeners?