Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Teaching the Art of Listening in Today's Classroom

"Click, Click, Click, Click" goes the thumbs of my fellow graduate students, as I present my class research assignment on “diversity in the classroom” one chilly January evening.
My eyes open and alert, I glance around the classroom, and to my amazement all I see are the tops of their heads. "Wow!" I think to myself, "I guess this will be a tough crowd! How can I compete over a smart phone?" I continue my presentation walking through the aisles, throwing out questions to the audience, but only a few take the bait. Finally, I finish, take my seat, happy that it is over, but also a little frustrated. "Why did the Professor allow the other students to text during the presentations?"
Today, many people, adults and students find it difficult to sit through a presentation. The desire to constantly multitask whether it be to make out a grocery list, text a friend, or play a game on their smart phones draws them in like Pooh Bear to that last bit of honey. Despite the desire, many listeners don't realize the damaging message that they are sending to the presenters.

Furthermore, it seems that this problem has broadened into the realm of the corporate workplace. An article printed by The New York Times entitled, “Mind Your Blackberry or Mind Your Manners,” states, “It is customary now for professionals to lay BlackBerrys or iPhones on a conference table before a meeting — like gunfighters placing their Colt revolvers on the card tables in a saloon. It’s a not-so-subtle way of signaling ‘I’m connected. I’m busy. I’m important. And if this meeting doesn’t hold my interest, I’ve got 10 other things I can do instead.’ ”

With these struggles going on within the walls of college campuses as well as the corporate boardrooms of America, how can we, as teachers seeking excellence, translate the importance of quality listening skills to the classroom?
To be sure, we must first look to the standards.  The common core standards require that all students be required to present and listen effectively within the classroom.  Many times, the focus within the classroom tends to lean toward the speaking component; requiring students to get up in front of an audience and be graded on their ability to present well. However, with so much attention applied to the speaker, it can be easy to overlook what it means to be an effective listener. The common core addresses this by stating, “All students should prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” Therefore, the listening standards must be met.
Additionally, to meet these standards, teachers must incorporate the listening standards into the lesson plans daily. This can be accomplished through a number of ways, and there are numerous resources to help in accomplishing this goal. One great resource is the Teaching Channel. Recently, one particular video caught my eye that would be great in any classroom.
Teaching Channel
This video demonstrates the proper use of the Socratic seminar, but also emphasizes the need to create a safe culture where students feel free to share their thoughts, which is important for successful speaking and listening. According to the article, “10 Tips to Effective and Active Listening Skills," written by Susie Cortright, “Active listening is really an extension of the Golden Rule. To know how to listen to someone else, think about how you would want to be listened to.” 
Finally, as teachers seeking excellence, we must model effective listening skills ourselves every day in and outside of the classroom. Within the classroom, we should be in the habit of listening to our students as best we can. They need to feel that what they say has value.  Of course, this must be done appropriately, but it is important that students feel that their opinions count. Furthermore, what we do outside the classroom matters, too. Students are always watching us, and we must set the example by listening and collaborating with our colleagues respectfully, staying off our phones during meetings unless necessary to the agenda, and always keeping the golden rule of listening in mind, “always listen to others the way you would want to be listened to.”

 Other resources used for this blog post include:

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