Students raising hands, scratching notes fervently with a pencil, nodding their heads in agreement with their eyes glinting with that “a-ha!” moment look. Hopefully, this is what your classroom looks like each day. If you’re finding, however, that your students are less than engaged and you are struggling with behaviour and comprehension issues, it might be time to bring in some new tricks to encourage active listening with your students. Using these strategies are great ways to ensure that students not only listen, but also hear what you have to say.
The first method, and the easiest to implement, is establishing rapport with your students. When students respect you, they will listen to what you have to say. finding out about students’ backgrounds also enables you to make your instruction relevant to their lives. When I taught word problems to my grade 7 girls, I knew not to use sports examples, because very few of my students enjoy sports. Instead, we created questions about music, shopping and family.
Secondly, don’t do all the talking. As teachers, we love to hear ourselves teach, but there can be too much of a good thing. Keep your talking to a minimum – a good rule of thumb is one minute per average age of the children in your class. for example, in my grade 7 classes, 12 or 13 minutes is the absolute longest I will speak at a stretch. Usually it’s more like eight minutes. When students are encouraged to explain problems, read sections of stories, and help run procedures in class, their peers will pay more attention. Try having a designated reader of the day, or use group work to help students collaborate with each other. In my classroom, I have a few students who are quite new to English, so they have a ‘buddy’ who works with them and explains things in Arabic. Both students in the partnership work more efficiently than other pairs who both speak English, simply because they are communicating with each other more.
Use targeted activities
Next, use tasks to be sure that students are listening to the lesson. I use close passages and interactive notebooks to help students with both listening and note-taking skills. When students need to listen to fill in the blanks or create foldables to illustrate a concept, they are more likely to pay attention because they have a tangible product at the end of the lesson. Simply listening and writing is not an ideal learning practice for most students.
A strategy from Kagan also works to support active listening. After a brief mini-lecture (2-3 minutes maximum), have students turn to their shoulder partners or face partners and explain what was just said. After the next part of the lesson, the other partner has a turn to explain. These “tellbacks” are a great way to not only hold students accountable for listening, but they increase comprehension by having students put the concept in their own words.
Create the right environment
Finally, establish a physical environment that fosters active listening. Put the students in pairs so they can share tellbacks. Be sure all students can see you, the board, and other students (so try a semicircle or horseshoe shape for desks). Make a poster showing SLANT, which stands for ‘Sit up straight, lean forward, Ask questions, Nod and smile, Track the speaker’. Minimise class displays around the board area so students can focus on what’s being taught at the time.
You can create that actively listening class every day with just a few small changes. Give those vocal cords a rest and let the students show that they’ve been hearing you all along.
By Betina Fuentes