Laurel Schumacher has spent 27 years in early childhood education. She is a first grade teacher at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School, holds a BA in elementary education, MS in reading and is a certified reading specialist.
Listening is the ability to actively receive messages in the communication process. Children in classrooms spend much of their learning time engaged in some sort of activity that involves listening. Effective listening involves not only hearing what is being said, but also thinking about what is being said. Listening includes not just hearing the words spoken, but concentration on those words.
The Common Core State Standards embrace listening by expecting students to participate in collaborative conversations and to ask and answer questions about a text with elaboration and detail. A foundational skill for college and career readiness encompasses students taking part in rich and structured conversations and to contribute relevant information.
Clearly, listening is a critical and valued skill to learning- but the ability to listen is not a skill that is typically taught; it is a skill that is expected. We expect our students to listen to and follow directions, to pay attention and to focus and be present. So how do we as teachers help students become better listeners? We need to teach them. Explicit teaching of listening skills can encourage a deeper level of accountability as a listener, ultimately resulting in better communication and better learning.
5 simple strategies to teaching listening:
- Teach and model language that shows, not tells, how to listen. Give your students clear steps for the listening process. The Second Step curriculum explicitly teaches Eyes Watching, Ears Listening, Voices Quiet and Bodies Still. These cues for students show what listening looks like. Develop your own meaningful language to show students what it looks like to be a listener. Teach the steps for listening.
- Only give directions once. Repeating yourself multiple times only produces sluggish listeners. If students are accustomed to hearing directions two, three, even four times, they will not learn to listen the first time. Be sure that your students know that you will not repeat directions and they need to listen the first time.
- Teach self-help strategies for those students who may not have heard directions the first time. Try “ask 3 before me” or “take a look around and see what others are doing” before repeating directions. I often tell my students “ it’s not a good feeling to not know what you are supposed to do. Make sure you listen the first time so you know what to do and can feel good about what’s happening”. Instead of repeating directions to a student, ask your student to tell you (repeating directions back) as a self help strategy.
- Develop non-verbal cues to help remind students to sharpen listening skills. Simply moving each hand from the side of your face outward can be a perfect non-verbal reminder for students to focus and listen. Pointing to eyes and ears can be another non-verbal cue. These subtle cues can help students who might struggle with attention to sit up and hone in as a listener. For that student needing frequent reminders, invite them to help you develop a “top secret” non-verbal cue just for them. That personal reminder will give them ownership for listening.
- Incorporate ‘turn and talk’ and ‘think, pair and share’ activities in to your teaching. Engaging students in listening to one another for a specific purpose is a powerful listening activity. Instead of asking for volunteers to share their own ideas, ask for volunteers to share what their partner’s ideas were. Activate listening by expecting listening.
As teachers we need to develop students who are good listeners. Good listening is learning and life skill that will follow our students and help them achieve many of the proficiencies of a 21st century learner. Listening plays an integral role in learning and in life!
Common Core State Standards Initiative
Listening Education, Listeners Unite
Second Step – Social Skills Learning Curriculum