More class time is devoted to activities that require children to listen than anything else. Yet, listening skills are rarely addressed in curricula. In surveys, educators assert the importance of listening skills, but few report any training in this area. In addition, teachers report that children’s listening skills are steadily deteriorating.
According to Mary Renck Jalongo, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, editor of Early Childhood Education Journal, studies indicate that American adults listen at only 25 percent efficiency, being distracted or preoccupied nearly 75 percent of the time. We expect much more of children. Children are expected to listen about half the time they are in school.
What is good listening
Jalongo describes listening as the active construction of meaning from both verbal and nonverbal signals. Good listeners filter out much of what they hear and focus on the message. Good listeners are involved both intellectually and emotionally, actively processing information and asking relevant questions.
Students’ listening behavior is considerably influenced by a teacher’s behavior. Modeling good listening habits is essential. By listening attentively to children, we show that we value them, and studies show that children who feel valued by their teacher behave better and listen more. It’s also important to have developmentally appropriate expectations, to manage the classroom well and to communicate effectively.
One problem expressed by teachers of young children is that children don’t listen to each other during discussion and sharing times. Jalongo reminds teachers that young children are inexperienced as group members. Keeping the groups small (eight to ten) helps. She also suggests replacing “Show and Tell” with “Share and Ask.”
When children ask questions about the object brought in for sharing they are more likely to listen and stay involved. They need practice with the question-and-answer format, but gradually they learn the difference between a question and a comment.
Refocusing children after activities
In response to another common problem, Jalongo recommends helping children quiet down after transitions in activities (especially after lunch, gym or recess) by refocusing them with an inviting activity that becomes part of the routine, like a sign-up sheet for interest centers, a signal of dimmed lights or a lit candle for a read-aloud, or a shy puppet who will not come out until the children are quiet.
Teachers who have to repeat directions all the time might find that they need to make the directions very clear the first time. Giving instructions one at a time and using a simple visual aid helps. Also, telling children what to listen for or calling upon a student to paraphrase the instruction helps students remember directions.
Increasing motivation to listen
Children’s motivation to listen increases when they know they will be expected to perform a specific task. Children who have developed passive listening habits need help to develop more active habits. Making predictions about what will be said, watching the speaker, formulating questions, identifying main ideas, summarizing and responding to what is heard are all productive habits to practice.
Jalongo suggests several ways for teachers to build listening skills throughout the school day:
1. Use vocabulary curves as in “All canine owners line up.”
2. Pass a child’s question along to the group.
3. Use visualization techniques: “Can you imagine…”
4. Use graphic organizers. Ask students to draw a map or picture of what they’ve just heard.
5. Have students conduct interviews in class.
6. Use reenactment after hearing a story.
7. Try partner art — one student draws what another describes.
“Promoting Active Listening in the Classroom” Childhood Education Volume 72, Number 1, Fall 1995 pp.13-18.
Published in ERN January/February 1996 Volume 9 Number 1