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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Speak Like a Listener, Listen Like a Speaker - UPDATED

I went over to my friend Margaret's for a glass of wine the other night.  This turned out to be a very smart thing to do!

I have been finding that my students have difficulty following instructions.  I've been trying to get down to the nitty-gritty to find out why this is.  I've established that they don't listen very well.  So I said to them, "While you are all very lovely children, you have a problem listening, you need to work on your listening skills".   Of course, telling them that had absolutely zero impact, hence the glass of wine at Margaret's.

Fortunately for me, I hang around with very smart people.  Margaret said that I need to teach my students to listen like speakers, and speak like listeners.  She made me realize that first, as a teacher, I had to unpack what good listeners do.  Then, I had to explicitly teach these skills to my students.  It dawned on me that if my students can't read, I teach them to read, ergo, if my students can't listen, I need to teach them how to listen.  Telling them they need to improve is pointless unless I tell them how to do it.

So this week, I defined the term "Active Listening" for my students.  After explaining what it meant, I asked them to brainstorm why Active Listening might be something that is beneficial for them to do.  They had no difficulty with this at all.  Turns out, they really do WANT to listen, they just don't know how.  Then we created an anchor chart of what Active Listening sounds like, looks like and feels like.

Our Learning Goals in Reading are:

I will summarize what I am reading because if I can retell it, then I know I understand it.  

When summarizing, I will list the key ideas, this will help me to remember what is important. 

We realized that being able to summarize what we listen to is as important as being able to summarize what we read.  We also realized that "hearing" is not the same as "listening".  Hearing is passive, and information may not actually go into our long term memories.  To put what we hear into our long term memories, we have to actually attend to it, or LISTEN to it actively.  

To understand Active Listening Strategies better, I found "Teaching Listening" on-line by Steven Brown from Cambridge University Press.  Next week, I am going to have my students practise Active Listening Strategies so that they can improve.  Steven Brown suggests that prior to having students listen, you tell them what you want them listening for.  Listening strategies to find key ideas are different than listening strategies to  find details. Who knew?  He also stressed the importance of having them practise listening to one another.  So next week, I'm going to put very detailed and dynamic photos up on the interactive white board.  They will have to tell a partner what they think is happening in the photo.  Their partner will then have to paraphrase what they said.  Then with a new photo, we will switch speaker and listener roles.  We will practise asking questions to clarify what we think we hear.  

Then I will have them all listen to a podcast, (haven't decided what the topic will be yet, but we are completing our Biodiversity Unit in Science, so I'm thinking it will be related to that)  *Update, found great "video-casts" on the National Geographic for Kids website.*  I will first activate their background knowledge, then I will ask them to listen for the key ideas (since in Reading we are practising finding the key ideas).  After the podcast, we will share what we thought the key ideas were.

Oral Communication is not just about Speaking, it is about Listening too.  And in Ontario, we have to report on our students' ability to listen.  Before we evaluate their Listening skills, we should at first teach them some, shouldn't we?  

I'm hoping this explicit instruction in listening will help my students with the third overall expectation in Oral Communication in our Language Curriculum: 

  • reflect on and identify their strengths as listeners and speakers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful in oral communication situations.

Keeping my fingers crossed!


These lessons went so well!  I put together a slide show of photographs showing children at play throughout the last century and around the world.  I described the first photo to the students, and gave them a brief discription.  Then I showed them the photo, they were surprised that it didn't look anything like what they had imagined.  They realized that my description hadn't given them enough information.  We repeated the activity with a new photo, this time they asked me questions for clarification.  Then we repeated the process with one group facing the screen, and one with their back to the screen. They worked with a partner with one partner describing the photo and the other listening "actively" by asking questions and checking for understanding.  This worked so well and they loved the activity.  At the end, I asked them what the theme was, or the message of the power point, and they said "children will play and have fun no matter where they are".   Here is the anchor chart we created together after the activity:

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