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michaelopitzToday’s post is written by Michael F. Opitz, professor emeritus of reading education from the University of Northern Colorado who has investigated numerous literacy topics, including listening over two decades. His substantive research on teaching listening resulted in his book, Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Comprehension Strategies (Heinemann, 2004). He is the author of and coauthor of numerous books, articles, and reading programs. 

Listening is at the heart of language development. At the moment of birth, babies have approximately twelve full weeks of listening experience and as children develop, so do their listening skills; listening becomes a vehicle for comprehension development. Due to its importance, here are five reasons for explicitly teaching listening:

  1. Learners develop an ability to discriminate sounds. Listening iearnvolves the identification of the differences among sounds. This identification and discrimination leads children to the understanding that sounds are grouped together to form words.
  1.  Students realize the value of listening. Listening makes up a great percentage of a student’s day, both in and out of school. Expanding their views of listening and the benefits of using good listening skills can impact how they use listening. For instance, listening precisely to verbal instructions has a direct impact on student’s success in the classroom. They know exactly what they are to do as a result of being able to perform this type of listening.
  1. Students learn to listen for a variety of purposes. There are many purposes for listening, such as to determine a speaker’s intended message, being able to thoughtfully respond to a speaker’s message, and to appreciate music. The good news is that teachers can actually teach children how to listen for a variety of purposes, which is one of the main goals of the Listenwise curriculum. Teaching students how to listen is far different from simply expecting them to develop this complex language art by listening for longer periods with no specific focus.
  1.  Listening enhances children’s ability to use the other language arts. Teaching listening allows students to follow directions, understand expectations, and make sense of oral communication. As children improve as listeners, they learn to use the same strategies to improve their command of the other language arts. For example, when children ask a question (speaking), they then listen (listening) for the response which might clarify what they need to do to complete a given reading or writing task.
  1. Students understand the relationship between listening and reading. Listening, like reading, is an active process. Listening and reading require the use of similar thought processes such as predicting and self-monitoring to attend to the conveyed message for the construction of meaning. And let’s remember that reading a word is much easier if it has first been heard!

As these five reasons show, explicitly teaching listening better positions learners to be critical listeners. They are better able to interpret what they hear in our media-driven society. Consequently, they are more astute consumers of information, goods, and services.

  1. Lorrie St Amant says:

    This is useful information, however, I thought it would include information about “how” to teach listening skills. I would be interested in an article about that topic.

  2. Amelia S. Jose says:

    When you say reading a word is much easier when you have already heard it, what do you mean exactly? From my experience, ESL learners, or any language learner for that matter, tends to ask their teacher for the written word when they hear one they do not understand. In fact, my students oftentimes expect me to provide them with the script while they listen to the recording, which I never do before they have listened to it twice.

    • Hi Amelia,
      Thanks for commenting! We mean the words in a person’s oral vocabulary—words used in speaking and recognized in listening. Students often use the words they have heard to make sense of the words they see in print. If an unknown word in print is not a part of a student’s oral vocabulary, they will have more difficulty reading and understanding the word. As students read higher-level texts, they need to learn the meaning of new words that are not part of their oral vocabulary.

      Providing students with a script while they are listening is a great literacy support! For English learners, it allows them see the words in print as they hear the pronunciation of the words, which helps increase word acquisition and comprehension.

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