Nobody teaches listening any more

Every year, when teachers give students a grade for English on their report cards, they have to assess three strands. This means Reading & Viewing, Writing, and Speaking & Listening.

Reading? Easy. Teach them phonics and sight words. Listen to them read. Ask them questions about what they’ve read.

Writing? Pretty straight-forward. Work through the structure of the text type for the term. Get them to draft, write, edit and publish their own pieces.

Speaking? Yep. Provide speaking topics and look out for voice projection, eye contact, being concise and clear. Provide regular feedback and opportunities to practise.

Listening, though? Now that’s where it gets tricky.

There’s this thing called active listening and teachers think that they know what it looks like. It looks like sitting still, looking at the speaker, nodding, maintaining focus.

The problem is- just because students are doing those things, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually absorbing and remembering what’s being said. In fact, some of the kids who can best repeat verbatim what’s been uttered by another are those who appear the most distracted when the uttering is taking place.

So now you might be thinking “ok, well give them a listening test”. Well, the issue with that is that if you give kids a direction like “draw a red circle around the blue rectangle”, you’re not just testing their listening ability, you’re also expecting them to know their colours, shapes, directional language, other vocabulary…. you catch my drift.

And that’s just assessment. Which comes after instruction. Which begs the question, how do you teach listening?

Modelling, you say? Well that assumes that adults are good listeners themselves. But are we, really?

In a world where people avoid phone calls in favour of text messages, who are lauded for their ability to broadcast their every opinion on and off social media, who are we to show the next generation how to listen…. to really listen!?

Real listening is not just hearing. It means paying attention to what is being (and not being) said. It means not interrupting. It means not waiting for a pause into which you can insert your opinion, your answer, your quick-fix.

It’s actually very complex. And it’s critical. Why, you ask? Because we’re living in a world where loneliness has become an epidemic. When people are craving connection more than ever.

The good news? There are some things we can teach in regards to listening.

1. Curiosity. We can encourage kids to want to know things, and to want to get to know other people.

2. Remaining open-minded. We can instil in young people the notion that there is never only one single right answer. That it’s a good thing to change your mind. That realising you were wrong, or ignorant, or misinformed, is what it means to learn.

3. Aiming for understanding. We can ensure that students enter conversations with the intention to come out the other side with a better understating of the other. To be a true sounding board. To be truly empathetic.

Any other ideas on how listening should be taught or assessed? Comment below! 👇

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