Many teachers and educators spend a lot of time focusing on reading, writing, taking notes, etc. All of these skills are admirable focus areas, but listening seems to have been lost in the mix.
Listening is a great skill to practise for both students and teachers.
As a tutor, I need to listen to my students. I need to truly hear (not just listen) their problems and what they feel might be solutions. NOTE: I don’t always have to agree, but I need to be aware and genuinely listening.
Not only does listening help me understand more about the academic (and other) issues that a particular student might be facing, but it also builds a much more solid and genuine rapport with that same student. If students believe that you are engaged and willing to acknowledge their thoughts – take them into serious consideration – they feel valued and are far more likely to listen to you!
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course, students need to develop their listening skills as well. Not everything they say is a stellar thought. Not every story needs to be explored ad nauseam. This, however, is simply another learning opportunity to teach students to self-regulate their comments when appropriate, weeding out the dross and getting to the essential components of what they want to say.
Often, students will tell me that they don’t understand a particular concept. As I am explaining how to approach the task, they start talking – and often not even about the task at hand! This is the fragmented world we seem to live in now. It is important to get the student back on track and listening to the entire explanation. Without focusing on the task fully and listening all the way through, he or she will be jumping into the assignment without the necessary tools.
When I redirect their attention and inform them that they must be quiet and listen to the entire explanation – first. They usually have a sudden “A-ha!” moment. “Now I get it!”
Surprise, surprise, when you have all the tools, things seem so much easier.
Of course, this epiphany does not necessarily mean that the student will take the time to listen fully next time, but it is a step in the right direction.
I do have students who have been with me for years, and they all have improved their listening skills – some of them to the point of being excellent listeners. They know that their comments and questions will be received well if they have attended.
They know that I am listening.
I am writing this blog today because I am facing some listening issues with a few students.
What is the solution? Well, we need to do some directed listening practice. There are many ways to work on listening skills, but here is a case study as an example. (Note: No Bens were injured during this case study. The name was chosen randomly and is not any of the real Bens that I have had over the years.)
Ben is having difficulty with a math problem from school. I look over his work and at his textbook.
“Ben, have you read the directions and examined the examples provided?”
“No.” (This is a very typical answer. The other is, “Yes, but I don’t get it.”)
“Well, let’s go over the information together, Ben. Let me hold on to your pencil for you. I want you to listen carefully and say nothing as long as I have the pencil. Once I return the pencil to you, you have the floor to start asking questions, suggesting solutions, or complaining about why you even need to learn math anyway.”
This “game” or physical, tactile model works well with most students. They understand the concept easily and can manage to listen for a much longer period of time than their usual.
Now, to be fair, you have to keep your explanations and comments to a reasonable length and this will vary for different students. You might have to stop part way through your explanation, give her/him the pencil and allow a comment or question – or ask if she/he understands so far, allowing a release valve. If you have been listening to the student, you will know his/her limitations and requirements.
Listening is so important. Let’s all try to practise our listening skills and help others to do the same.
YouTube channel: Tutoring Central