How Can Teachers Encourage Active Listening In The Classroom?

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Learning to listen

A culture of listening goes far beyond telling students to listen to the teacher. It means expecting 100% attention and respect when you are speaking…

Consider how students form their initial impressions of you as a teacher. What evidence do they use? Their impression is usually formed as a result of their perception of the levels of control and attention that they observe existing in the classroom. Thus, technical management – the efficient and practical organization of the class – determines to a great extent, how teachers are judged by others as well as by their students.

At the heart of effective technical management is a culture of listening. While it may not appear to be critical on the surface, a culture of listening will lead to other essential qualities such as respect, self-control, awareness, valuing one another’s ideas, and building bonds within a group.

A culture of listening begins with the perception by the students that the teacher is absolute about attention. This perception can only be supported by the reality that the teacher is absolute. That means the teacher always expects 100% attention; when someone is talking and if there is anything but 100% attention, the teacher must stop and take action. The action itself does not have to be dramatic or severe but it does need to be automatic and consistent.

The same principle must apply to any member of the classroom community that is authorized to speak. A culture of listening goes far beyond telling students to listen to the teacher. It means showing respect to anyone who is sharing and expecting 100% attention and respect when you are speaking. It may take a while for students to adjust to this climate if they have been exposed in environments where there was little attention to or accountability for listening, but they come to appreciate it.

As the teacher, you will be able to notice that this principle is catching hold when you observe students waiting for others to stop and listen before speaking, and when you notice that students speak more purposefully and confidently since others are actually attentive to what they have to say.

Getting Attention
A simple yet effective way to send the message that a teacher requires 100% attention is to always wait for all students to be attentive. And if a student or two are not listening fully, maybe take a simple but active step and stop directions while waiting for the student. It can be even more powerful to start directions from the beginning. The use of shame and embarrassment is tempting, but avoid this. It is counterproductive.

While promoting a high level of attention is critical to a teacher’s ability to meet student learning outcomes it also has a deeper value. It fosters in each student increased levels of respect for the ideas of others. As each student grows in their ability to attend and come out of their own ego-centered thought processes, they increasingly awaken to the world around them and are present to the moment.

The starting point for bringing about positive change is helping students learn the value of learning to be attentive to the world around them, and creating a culture of listening and respect in the classroom is a vital tool for doing so.

States of Attention
Students typically are asked to exhibit several states of attention, although they can be in only one of them at any particular time. The use of a cue helps in shifting from one state to another. For example, give directions and say such as “Since we are working independently, I should hear only occasional quiet voices when you are asking each other questions; other than that, it should be pretty quiet.”

It is essential that students know exactly what the expectation is for the current state of attention and what behavior is appropriate for that state. Often students are not sure what level of attention or amount of interaction is appropriate at any given time.

1. 100% Attention
Whenever the teacher is giving explicit directions or another student is volunteering ideas, all members of the class should be listening attentively.
Example: “We have all got our eyes and ears up here and our hands free,” or “We are all giving Esther our undivided attention.”

2. Casual or Optional Attention
Often the teacher or a student spontaneously makes a comment while the class is engaged in a task. The comment has value to the whole, but the teacher does not think it worthy of stopping the class formally.
Example: “I see some really good examples of categories that groups are using to classify their items,’ or “Are we all making sure that we are doing a good job of executing the role that we have been assigned?”

3. Talk at a reasonable level
Students are free to talk at a reasonable level about the learning task. Example: “I should be hearing groups brainstorming ideas for their poster at a conversational level so that we can all hear ourselves think,” or “It is great to be talking as long as it is about the assignment.”

4. Talk appropriate
Students are free to talk about anything that is considered appropriate for a classroom. Example: “I need you guys to hold tight for a couple more minutes, so it is okay to talk, but we need to stay in our seats until the bell rings.”

5. Silence is golden
Students are required to be quiet so that others are able to work in peace, but are not necessarily required to be attentive. Example: “We all need to be completely quiet until everyone is done with the test. You are free to read or work on the homework, but we have to wait on any conversation until everyone is done.”

Like this article for teachers?

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