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Age 3 through 8th grade

Four Steps to Better Listening

  • CWIL
  • Study Skills
  • Teaching and Learning
Ms. Vita Biddle

Listen to this!

Of all of the skills that come together to make a strong student, listening is perhaps the most important. Students spend at least half of their school day listening. They switch between listening for appreciation to listening for information to listening for understanding. Each of these requires a separate host of subskills and has varying degrees of difficulty. Although hearing is a natural ability, listening is not.  It should be systematically taught and regularly practiced. But alas, it often is not.

Teachers and parents are often unknowingly one of the reasons that students are poor listeners!  That’s a hard pill to swallow, and it makes me feel a little guilty when I think about it. Surely we don’t mean to be. We all want our children to be successful, to be prepared, and to be confident learners. So what do we do?  We repeat and repeat and repeat…….

Science teacher with 2 students

Are you following me? For example, when giving instructions to my classes, I may tell them to turn to a certain page. On average, I probably repeat that one piece of information about five or six times before they all get there.  And that’s on a good day!  Why, though? Well, I want my students to be successful, prepared, and confident!  But guess what?  In the process of doing that, I diminish their need to listen to my direction the first time. I literally am setting them up to tune in on the fifth or sixth repetition. Unless I make a conscientious, concerted effort to not repeat, I find myself doing it without thinking. I bet you do the same.

(I imagine lots of heads nodding in agreement here!)

So how do we help our children (and dare I say the adults in our lives) learn to be better listeners?  The answer is both easy and simultaneously challenging.  We need to stop repeating ourselves. Try these ideas to make the effort a little easier.

  • Insist on their attention. Taking one’s attention off of one thing and putting it elsewhere is not an easy job. Our brains are wired to handle one thing at a time.  Yes, the ability to multitask is a myth. Sorry, but it’s true. So when you are ready to tell your child something, insist on their full attention before you begin to speak. 
  • Say it once. Don’t just say you’re going to say it once.  Really only say it once.  But before you do, tell your child that you will only be saying your direction once. 
  • Use cues. Words, gestures, volume and tone can all aid as cues while giving directions. Motions, I find, work the best. If the direction has to do with tying shoes, for example, use a shoe-tying motion while giving the direction. Play around with volume.  Some children listen better when you speak more quietly as opposed to loudly.  If they have to work to hear you, they automatically get quieter and more focused to do so. 
  • Gamify it. As much as you are trying to not repeat, they should be trying to not ask for repetition. So turn it into a healthy competition.  Every time you repeat, they get a point.  Every time they ask for repetition, you get a point. The winner gets out of doing the dishes!  Well, let’s be honest - you will be doing the dishes no matter who wins, but really everyone is winning because your listening skills are improving.

Vita BiddleVita Biddle, Independence's LeApps™ Specialist, has taught at our school since 1992. She is a team member of the Center for Wellness, Innovation and Learning (CWIL™).


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