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Today’s blog post explores how to teach listening from a chapter in my upcoming book: Listen Wise: Teach Students to be Better Listeners. In my other sneak peeks, you can read more about chapter 2 and why listening is a skill that matters and chapter 3 that features the neuroscience behind listening.
Today’s sneak peek from chapter 4 of my book is about the ways we can teach listening skills.
Teaching listening is easier than you might think. With some simple steps to build awareness, learn strategies, and apply what they’ve learned, your students can become better listeners.
As with any skill set, students vary in the listening skills they bring to the classroom. That’s why it’s best to start with building self-awareness. The concept that listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced may be new to them. Undoubtedly, they have been criticized many times in their lives for not listening. It begins with their caregivers or parents. They are the first adults who are casualties in the listening battle. The fight continues when kids go to preschool, and it’s the first time they are part of a larger group with a need to listen to group instructions. If they don’t hear their teacher say “It’s time to put away an activity,” they could face consequences.
As the battle moves to elementary school, the importance of listening to learn continues to grow. Now listening is not just something they need to do well to transition between activities or to learn how to tie their shoes. They need to listen to learn about academic concepts such as multiplication, character traits in folktales, animal adaptations, or geographical features.
And yet, when are students learning how to listen?
In the book, I talk about five different types of listening. It helps to walk through these different types of listening with your students so they understand how much they are already working their listening muscles. And then you can help them focus on the two types of listening most used in academic learning: Strategic Listening and Critical Listening.
Listenwise has developed a framework for how best to teach listening, and these steps are embedded in every lesson. I’ve distilled the framework below.
Guidelines for Teaching Listening
Set a goal
It’s important to have a goal or purpose for every listening activity. Stating a purpose will give students guidance to know where to focus, enabling them to achieve success (Funk and Funk 1989).
Help students connect what they already know with what they will hear in the audio story by asking questions about their personal experiences with the topic. Explain what students need to understand before listening, preview vocabulary words, invite them to think about relevant prior knowledge, anticipate the subject of the story, or otherwise engage actively in preparing for the story.
Prepare the Environment
If playing the story out loud to the whole class, minimize distraction by making the environment at home or in school as quiet as possible. Use headphones for listening when possible.
Introduce Listening Strategies
Introduce tools and strategies for successful listening (see below).
Students can use a listening organizer to help them focus on important ideas and details while listening to the story, which can help to deepen their understanding. Listening organizers might include T-charts, Venn diagrams, or a blank page to keep track of a character’s actions in the story. Such organizers can guide students in taking notes to help them focus their listening and teach them strategies to support comprehension in other contexts.
Problem Solving Strategies
If students do not understand a word or concept, they can use clues from the story to make a guess. If they are listening independently, they can stop the audio and think or listen again as needed to ensure understanding. They can be “problem-solving listeners.” These strategies should be taught before students begin listening with reminders provided as needed.
Reflect on the Audio Story
Engage students in synthesizing what they learned from listening to the story with a focus on key understanding goals. For example, ask students to respond to listening comprehension questions in writing and then share their responses with a partner, small group, or the whole class. Discuss key themes in the story and encourage students to make connections to other texts or experiences. Students can respond to questions about the story through writing, speaking in conversation, recording themselves speaking, or a combination.
Students’ listening skills will only improve so much on their own. As with any skill, significant improvement requires recognition of where you are and then practice to improve it.
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