Ten steps to effective classroom listening

No doubt, at some point in our lives, some wise person has reminded us that there’s more to listening than merely opening our ears.

Indeed, we know this. We understand this.

But, often, we are still hearing without really listening.

My wife tells me I’m a good listener. I’ll trust her judgment—that I am a good listener, at least with her. But how am I doing in the classroom?

If you’re not modelling effective listening skills, can you really expect students to listen to you?

Four years ago, the associate dean at my college’s business school offered to monitor the class of any teacher who wanted feedback. I was scared that he would find all kinds of problems with my teaching. However, I also knew it was a priceless opportunity to get some superb expert criticism.

The associate dean’s most memorable comment was that I interrupted students before they finished speaking.

I had no idea I was doing this, and being conscious of this bad habit—and being mindful of when I do it—has helped me to work on it. I still cut off my students once in a while, but I think I’m doing it less.

The latest book I’m reading for my Masters of Adult Education research may also help. In How to Teach Adults, author William A. Draves provides 10 suggestions for effective listening:
1. When a learner is speaking, try to understand what he or she is saying and don’t start getting ready to reply or refute.
2. Don’t try to too quickly interpret what the learner is saying.
3. Put aside your own views.
4. Don’t jump ahead of the speaker.
5. Don’t prepare your answer while listening (guilty as charged!).
6. Be alert and interested and show it.
7. Do not interrupt (guilty again).
8. Expect the learner’s language to be different from yours.
9. Provide feedback.
10. Avoid negative feedback (Wow—this one is hard).

Being reminded of some of the ways that we sabotage our listening (see points 5, 7, and 10 for me) will help me identify those moments when I’m not listening—perhaps hearing, but definitely not listening—and may help me to curtail this habit.

William A. Draves, author of How to Teach Adults

While Draves’ book is now 15 years old, this essential how-to guide should be in every new teacher’s personal library. It is easy to follow, is written in accessible language, and provides many other practical suggestions and examples of effective teaching techniques and strategies.

So read the book, if you’re looking for a quick refresher on the essentials of good teaching. And if you get a chance, ask a colleague into your classroom.

Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself?

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About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
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