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8 Ways Listening Leads to Learning

not-listeningWe teachers often talk too much. Research on listening suggests that adults spend an average of 70% of their time engaged in some sort of communication; of this average, 45% is spent listening compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing. I would argue that this data does not represent teachers in the classroom. We tend to talk more than we listen.

I wonder how many of us have thought of teaching as communication.

Think about this definition of communication: “Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange information, news, and ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.”

Now, think about how much richer our classroom environments could be if we planned, prepared, and presented our lessons through this lens of communication — with the goal of reaching mutual understanding, exchanging information, ideas and feelings, and creating and sharing meaning. To do so, we must listen more than we speak.

What about the time, we may ask, what about the content knowledge we must impart?

When we exchange our need to talk with our students’ vital need to have us listen, we

  1. transform our teaching by looking for ways to invite students into conversations
  2. better utilize the time we have with our students, meeting their needs in one-on-one and small group discussions
  3. deliver information in new ways, other than students listening to lectures or taking notes from slide presentations, or completing worksheets
  4. break down walls many adolescents have built against school and against authority — they know we see them as the unique individuals they are, and they respond
  5. provide opportunities for students to learn from one another so we may listen as they share with one another
  6. help students discover and take ownership of their needs, both personally and academically — talk often works as a lead into deeper thinking
  7. facilitate communication that leads students to take on the characteristics and behaviors of readers and writers — or in a biology class as scientists, or in a history class as historians.

Fostering room for more listening is the first move into creating a culture of conferring.

Does it make us vulnerable? Yes! and facing our vulnerability is where our growth as teachers takes root, taps into strategies that nurture our learners, and eventually blossoms into the instruction and learning experiences we want for all students.

How do you make room for listening in your classroom? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

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5 thoughts on “8 Ways Listening Leads to Learning

  1. […] Listening most often leads to learning, and I sure learned a LOT last week! Thanks for the ideas, #PaxThinkTank!! […]

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  2. Shana Karnes March 1, 2017 at 5:27 am Reply

    YES YES YES! I cannot stop thinking about this idea of talk, and who’s talking, and what power talk has vs. listening! I just keep reading about it and seeking more ways to shut up and lean in, as it were!

    Gahh, and your wisdom about how that shutting up and listening and being authentically responsive is where we become VULNERABLE is just so smart, too. There are so many good nuggets to tease out in this post!!! THANKS for writing it! 🙂

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  3. Lisa Dennis February 28, 2017 at 9:06 am Reply

    I think listening during a conference is the area I need to focus in on. We discussed the difficulty of conferencing at our PD session on Friday, and beyond the common issues of time, we also discussed feeling like we don’t know the “best” questions to ask to get a student really talking about and connecting with his/her book. Interestingly enough, your post reminds me that it isn’t so much about what we PLAN to ask next, but how we really listen and let a conversation evolve.

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  4. Jessica Paxson February 28, 2017 at 8:44 am Reply

    Amy, I think it’s so important that you talk about creating opportunities for talk in the context of teacher listening. We should not just provide opportunities for students to teach each other, we should eavesdrop like crazy while that’s happening! Students will often tell each other more, or even just say things differently, as they speak to their peers. This helps us get to know our students, and it allows students to practice processing their learning with “colleagues,” which is such a lifelong skill!

    I would also add, in addition to listening, we should also remember. I have a trusty-pile-o’-stickies that bears the souls of my students as I listen and make inferences about their lives. It sounds creepy, and it kind of is. The act of writing them down helps me file them away in my brain for later access and use!

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  5. Amy Estersohn February 28, 2017 at 7:31 am Reply

    I’ve also thought about listening as an informal conference opportunity. For example, instead of simply deducting points if a student is unprepared with their book for the day, which I used to do, I try to do some sleuthing into what’s going on with the student and pay attention to behavior? Where is the book? How late did you stay up reading? Or did the student “forget” the book because she secretly wants to read something else and is too ashamed to admit it?

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