Teaching Active Listening to Students
Resource On Building Listening Skills
What Is Active Listening?
We all do it. We hear a person speaking but we do not actually listen to them. I am guilty of doing this with my husband. As I sit next to him, he commences to share something he considers important. I perceive sounds, tones and, yes, noise reaching my ears and tickling my brain; but I am not really listening.
I know this because after a minute or two he will ask me, in a louder tone of voice,
"Are you listening to me?"
I swallow and say, "Huh?"
Then there are the times when I am listening to him speak, but within my thoughts I am constructing what I want to say in response to his words. This is even before he has finished speaking. I am just waiting for my cue to jump in and speak my thoughts. I wait for a pause, blurt out my little speech; and after sharing my insightful thoughts, he clams up. (Oops! Did I just put words in his mouth?)
Active listening is a method of interchange (exchange of ideas) that involves a listener in the communication process. It involves verbal and nonverbal communication as you interact with another person. Hearing and listening are two different things, knowing the difference is important to effective communication. I would like to point out that great teachers are good listeners; they recognize listening is a valuable skill in instructing and guiding students.
How Well Do You Listen?
- After a plane crash where would the survivors be buried?
- Can a man marry his widow's sister?
- How many birthdays does the average man have?
These phrases used in critical thinking courses demonstrate how our brains react to statements. We tend to forward think as someone speaks and miss key words that indicate what the speaker is trying to convey. Often, our brains are so engaged and loaded that we overlook the words that change the meaning of the phrase or statement.
Did you answer the questions above correctly? Take the quiz at the end of this article to check your answers.
Active Listening In The Classroom
Close listening is what teachers do with their students on a daily basis. Group instruction is used to effectively communicate broad concepts and ideas to a thematic lesson. Often teachers will lecture several minutes then ask questions. "What do you think about this idea, Adrian?" No answer. Adrian heard the sound waves hitting her eardrum, but was not paying close attention to what was being said.
On average, we process fifty percent (50%) of what we hear, and retention of this information is about ten percent (10%) after a twenty-four hour period. (Source: L Barker, K. Watson, Listen Up, p. 5, 2001, New York: St. Martin's)
And just as important, maybe more so, is actively listening to the student. Whether in group discussions or one-on-one, it is a skill that will help the teacher to understand the student's comprehension of the concept being taught. I personally use active listening skills one-on-one with students as often as possible to show that I care. Caring leads to engagement of the student in the learning process.
Famous Listening Quotes:
♦You never get people's fuller attention than when you're listening to them. —Robert Brault
♦The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said. —Peter F. Drucker
♦"Silent" and "Listen" are spelled with the same letters. —Author Unknown
Develop Your Active Listening Skill
Active Listening Aids
Fully Engage In Active Listening
At times it is difficult to focus on what a student is sharing and teachers may pretend to listen. Faking it can have negative consequences on the teacher-student relationship; as a student shares, you may miss key information helpful in guiding this person.
First, relax. Use positive body language and nonverbal skills to show him that you are comfortable in his presence. Make eye contact. Sit or stand in a position, within an appropriate speaking distance, that indicates comfort and that you are responsive. Lean into him as he speaks, nod your head, put a hand on his shoulder, smile, keep your arms open and not crossed; these all signal that you are engaged in the conversation.
Note: Our classrooms are diversified, some cultures interpret gestures (and vocabulary) differently, Be aware of these differences so that you can converse and connect with a student effectively.
Games To Build Active Listening Skills
The teacher will give directions to a student as she walks between, over, and around obstacles.
A student pretends to send a text message to another student (can write on small paper). They in turn text in their own words the message to the next student. Game continues until the last person is texted.. The last person shares the text message. If allowed, students can use real mobile phones for this exercise. Must be carefully instructed and monitored if actual phones are used.
Draw My Words
Have a student tell a story to the class. While he is speaking, have the class draw pictures to illustrate the tale. Add a twist to the exercise by having students draw their own conclusion to the story.
You're Playing My Song
Assign each student (or group students into small sets) a specific instrumental sound or noise. Optional: students can choose or make up their own sounds. As you conduct them, have them play out a simple song (i.e., Mary Had A Little Lamb) or lead them in a created version of a classical piece.
Reflective Listening Clip: Role Play
Your Brain's Processing Rate
Your brain is amazing! We talk at a rate of 120 to 150 words per minute but the brain can process 400 to 800 words per minute. (Source: Listening: Attitudes, Principles, and Skills; J. Brownell, Pearson, 2006, p. 86)
Ah, you think, then I can listen quite easily! However, because our brain is processing rapidly, we tend to use the extra "space" or time to wander in thought. Active listening requires patience and concentration. Giving a student your full attention will increase your understanding and build a strong relationship.
Use Reflective Listening Skills
Reflective listening is "empathic listening" which provides emotional support to the student. It demonstrates that you are sympathetic to their concerns and needs. Fully listen to a student without interruption. If you need clarification, when she pauses in speech, paraphrase in your own words what was stated. Remember to use words that are sympathetic and familiar, avoid buzz words which can come over as negative and prompt a strong emotional response.
Use open-ended questions that solicit clear information. Here are some suggested questions that you can ask to show you care and are actively listening:
- How did that make you feel?
- What I hear you saying is. . .
- What happened was . . .
- It sounds like you are feeling .. .
- In other words, you . . .
- Can you give me an example?
This lets the student know that you are following their flow in speaking and hearing them. It allows the speaker to relax and know that you care. As you reflect their feelings, using these empathic statements will also help you to comprehend what is being said and to make adjustments in your approach to the solution.
Engage In The Conversation
Active Listening Quiz & Answers
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Avoid Barriers To Active Listening
In my opening statements, I mentioned that I have a tendency to "think ahead" and prepare my response to my husband's speech while he is speaking. This is making an assumption, or forming an opinion, on what he is saying. An excellent teacher knows that learning requires keeping an open mind, knowing that you can learn from anyone and anything. You cannot prejudge a person on what you think, this will block your ability to converse with meaning and you may miss the point.
If you interrupt a student while speaking with your assumption, they interpret this as disinterest and will cease to communicate. Some teachers may find it helpful to take notes as the student speaks; however, to prevent anxiety, let them know why you are writing and how it will be used, prior to listening to their speech.
Avoid putting words in the student's mouth. As teachers, our time is so precious and due to lack of it, we want to limit our conversation with students. A common fallacy is to complete the individual's thoughts based upon what we have already heard. Again, doing this may force the student to stop sharing, may lead to a poor recommendation, or weak solution to a problem.
At times, teachers find it difficult to concentrate on a person's words when she is visually distracting. Her hair may be messy, clothing torn, she may speak in a high pitch, or other such minor details. Focus on what is being said, don't let it get in the way of having a meaningful exchange.