We need to teach students to be better listeners. The research, that I have read on this topic, indicates that the most important strategy for teaching students listening skills, is modeling by the teacher. In the book, In the Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication, Dan Rothwell has identified 5 key elements for active listening.
1. Pay attention
- Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message
- Recognize that non-verbal communication also "speaks" loudly.
- Look at the speaker directly
- Put aside distracting thoughts. Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal.
- Avoid being distracted by environmental factors.
- "Listen" to the speaker's body language.
- Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.
2. Show that you are listening
- Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.
3. Provide feedback
- Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
- Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is...", and "Sounds like you are saying..."
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say..." "Is this what you mean?
- Summarize the speaker's comments periodically.
4. Defer judgment
- Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish.
- Don't interrupt with counter arguments.
5. Respond appropriately
- Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting them down.
- Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person as you would want to be treated.
For older students, middle-high school age, I recommend putting these key elements on a chart, explaining the importance of them, in a few words, and, not only modeling them, but refer to them as often as possible throughout the school year.
You will find that these skills are not only useful between teacher-student interactions, but teacher-parents and colleague-colleague, as well as staff meetings, and personal relationships.
With the holidays coming up, you will have many opportunities to practice these skills with family members. So, when you're sitting next to Uncle Harry or Aunt Edith, and listening to the same story you have listened to since your conception, take this opportunity to do active listening. (No alcohol should be consumed during this experiment.) As you will discover, active listening takes a lot of effort. Hopefully, this experiment will help you to have empathy for your students as they struggle with developing this new skill.
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