Are You a Good Listener?

Four Steps to Learn About Students Through Listening

This past week, I had my students read an article about assessing students at the beginning of the school year and the article described listening to students as a form of assessment. I was met with skepticism about the idea that listening to students can be a form of assessment. We learn quite a bit about our students just by listening to them. Hearing their thoughts, what they have to say about a topic, and their stories from life outside of school can provide insight into their interests and background and can help us make connections to the curriculum content. 

During the time of COVID-19, listening better to others has been a popular topic. As  Zoom has replaced face-to-face encounters, it has become increasingly challenging to listen to others for prolonged periods of time. So, how do we listen better over Zoom? And, how do we listen better to our students when we are not seeing them face-to-face on a daily basis? Below are suggestions to help you be a better listener this year: 

  1. Eye Contact: 

My kids were playing together one afternoon last week and I overheard my older daughter telling her sister that she needs to look her in the eye when she’s speaking instead of looking at a toy. Clearly, she was learning about eye contact in school! Intention is where it starts! If you intend to listen and hear what a student has to say, start by looking at her when she is speaking. This can be applied to both in person and remote teaching. Looking the speaker in the eyes also teaches the student that she should look at you (rather than at her desk or something else) when you are speaking to her. 

  1. Avoid Multitasking: 

Life is busy today, especially for teachers who are teaching in so many different formats. Whether you are teaching virtual or in person, try and focus on the student who is speaking and what is being said rather than doing something else. You would not want to miss out on hearing a funny story because you were sorting through paperwork. 

  1. Ask Better Questions: 

If you already know the answer to the question you are asking, my suggestion is to find a new question to ask. We often do not listen well to others because we do not ask interesting questions. Questions like How’s it going? or How are you doing today? usually result in similar answers. Instead, ask questions that the students need to think about and that you do not know the answer to. Here are some of the questions to consider asking: 

  • What’s your goal for today? What are you excited to learn about today? 
  • What did you do when you read that sentence? Tell me about what you did to read that sentence. 
  • What is the best book you have read recently? Why did you like it so much?
  • Who is your favorite author? What do you like about this author’s books? 
  • What about reading is challenging for you? 
  • What about reading is fun for you? 
  • Who do you know who is a good writer? Why is that person a good writer? 
  1. Listen! Put Thoughts of Your Response on Hold:

Here’s the most challenging part of careful listening – rather than prepare your response while the student is speaking, listen instead! We can’t truly hear the answer if we are wrapped up in our response. Instead, try and hear the student while he is speaking and then consider your response.

By listening carefully to the readers and writers in our classroom, we are able to learn about the strategies they use as they are engaging in reading and writing as well as how the students are making meaning of texts and sharing their thoughts and ideas. Here’s to a fall season of listening to and learning about the readers and writers in our classrooms! Just remember to document what you learn! 😊

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