Teachers put a great deal of thought into crafting questions that challenge students to think about what they are learning.
But, according to a recent study in the Journal of Advanced Academics, teachers should pay just as much attention to how they listen to their students.
After analyzing more than 50 recordings of individual middle school reading conferences between teachers and students, the researchers identified 3 types of teacher listening: Evaluative, interpretive, student-oriented and teacher-oriented listening.
“In the current study, the teachers’ listening orientations were mediated to some degree by their attitudes, beliefs, and/or how difficult it was to listen to students,” the researchers write. “Three of the five teachers preferred to listen to high-ability readers, whereas one teacher reflected that she did not listen to the high-ability readers as much because they usually responded accurately.
The most common form of teacher listening style in the 50 individual conferences was interpretive (52%). Teachers tended to adopt this listening style regardless of students’ reading readiness, the researchers report. The next most common style was evaluative (21%) and only 6% of listening time was coded as student-oriented.
Teachers used combinations of listening styles in their sessions with students, and believed they were more likely to engage in student-oriented listening with high-ability students, although this belief was not supported by the data and needs further study, the researchers write.
Here are brief descriptions of the 3 major types of teacher listening:
Teacher listens primarily for the accuracy of students’ answers and tends to control the direction of the discourse.
Teacher listens to understand students’ sense-making and to comprehend the individual’s contribution. Asking clarifying follow-up questions is typical of interpretive listening.
Teacher makes space for student to share thinking rather than asking for clarification, guiding student toward an answer or scaffolding with multiple follow-up questions.
Teachers recorded their thoughts about the interviews in reflection journals. Some teachers who thought they were good listeners noted that they asked too many questions or gave students too little thinking and responding time.
“Their reflections revealed that this awareness was at times painful because they had to come to grips with the fact that listening was an area in which they needed to improve.”
Participants were five middle school teachers conducting differentiated reading conferences with their students as part of the first year implementation of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model-Reading Framework (SEM-R). The conferences lasted from 2.5 minutes to 16 minutes.
Listening is an orientation more than an act, researchers write. Several factors influence the potential for high-quality discourse, including teacher beliefs, relationships between teachers and students, expectations of students, and the quality of teacher questions.
As teachers reflected on their listening styles, they acknowledged using listening as an assessment tool “I notice that in the conferences, I have like trained my mind to go in and listen for the skill I’m trying to get out of them,” one teacher said.
Another teacher set a goal to become more engaged in her book discussions with struggling readers after she realized she was sometimes disengaged because they did not give coherent responses.
“If teachers filter their listening with students based on assumptions or preferences, doing so may lead to lost learning opportunities,” the researchers write.
“Understanding How Teachers Listen in a Reading Enrichment Program,” by Cindy Gilson and Catherine Little, Journal of Advanced Academics, August 2016, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp. 210-240.