Tips for Teaching: 

  • A Good Teacher is a Good Communicator
  • A Good Communicator Not only gives messages, but also receives messages
  • A good Teacher needs to be not only a good writer or speaker; but also a good Listenter 

 

LISTENING

An effective classroom leader or lecturer is not only a knowledgeable and skilled teacher he or she is a good active listener. Good listening skills are needed to develop empathy and understanding with the students and to assess whether they understand what they are being taught. Listening skills also help in negotiating with students and defusing any potential classroom conflicts.

Listening is a two-way process: you, as the teacher do most of the talking but you must also learn to listen to the students; the students spend a lot of time listening to you, and will also benefit from improved listening skills. Both teacher and student must learn to respect each other, while students must comprehend that teachers are not the “fountain of all knowledge”. Students must develop their own educational plan which involves searching for and finding solutions to their everyday problems or queries.

We spend much more of our time listening than speaking, reading and writing, and yet we remember relatively little of what we hear. After only a few days, only about 25% of a brief discussion will be retained. Research shows that improved listening skills can be learned.

Stages of Listening

Probably the simplest way to start thinking about listening is to break down the process into stages. In practice, no one would keep strictly to these stages, but reflecting on them should improve a person’s listening skills.

The first step is to open yourself to the 'incoming message' by letting down your defences as far as possible, and trying to sense the real, underlying meaning of what is being said. Listen for ideas, implications and feelings, as well as the facts being conveyed. As well as being able to hear, you must also want to, or at least be willing to listen. Taking brief mental notes may help to focus your attention, but it can also distract you from the real meaning. If in doubt, don't. Also, giving undisturbed eye contact with the other person shows a real commitment to them and their specific message.

The second step is to begin to interpret, or reconstruct, what is being said, remembering always that words have different meanings to different people. Keep asking yourself whether you really understand the message. Do your best to listen with full attention, and withhold judgement, assumption and criticism at this stage. Don't jump to conclusions before the story is complete.

Allow the other person to finish their message before attempting to begin speaking.

The third step is to evaluate what is being said, only after you have made a reasonably objective interpretation of the message. At this point you should reflect on the information and options being presented, and sift through the evidence. Unfortunately, judging often starts far too early in the listening process, especially when the topic has emotional implications or when there has been a long history of painful conflict. It is a fact that many people will judge according to their own personal life experiences and this may have a negative implication on the message. Unskilled listeners close their ears to words they do not want to hear and only hear the words they want to hear.

The fourth stage is responding. Here you demonstrate that you have truly been listening. Reassuring the speaker that you have been giving him full attention is a critical aspect of constructive listening. Feedback is usually given by asking for clarification or for more information, or at least giving some visible acknowledgment by smiling, nodding or frowning. Even making small remarks such as “Ah ha” during the message conveys a real interest in what the other person is saying.

Obstacles to Listening

It is important to be aware of the obstacles to listening in the classroom. You should be aware that all the people in the classroom, including yourself, are filtering and interpreting every word through a personal screen of attitudes, values, assumptions, judgements, past experiences and strong feelings. Be aware too that listening behaviour will be influenced by factors such as age, sex, cultural background and even physical appearance and mannerisms.

In some cases you, as the teacher, will simply need to make allowances for poor listening in others, and take positive action to remedy the situation.

Anxiety and Distraction

Listening, like learning, is difficult in an atmosphere of anxiety, tension or boredom. At some stage, all students will feel some degree of anxiety, and for some it can be a disabling experience, preventing them from listening, learning and participating in the classroom.

The student’s anxiety may be social, caused by fear of other students or of the teacher or it may be caused by a fear of academic failure. It is important to identify the cause/s of the anxiety which will help the student to relax and listen. Teachers should also be aware that all students learn in different ways, some being extroverted and outgoing while others choose not to participate actively in group discussions or role plays. Both learning styles indicate that students learn in their own preferable unique way.

Boredom and the need to seek distraction are also typical impediments affecting good listening in the classroom. It is easy to blame the student for their lack of interest, but you should also evaluate your teaching strategies, classroom environment, size of the group, cultural mix of the participants, age of the students, life experiences of individual people, and goals of each person when asking yourself questions about why listening is not naturally occurring.

Bias

As a direct result of our own life stories and experiences, we all have basic convictions, attitudes and beliefs, and are prejudiced in various ways, which can cause the listening process to break down. Empathy and presenting facts in a fair and unbiased way will help to regain your students’ interest and keep the lesson focussed in the right direction. As a teacher, you many also need to evaluate your own bias and possible prejudice towards students from certain cultural groups and the way you accept and work with these students.

Language Problems

Many classrooms have at least some students from Non-English speaking backgrounds whose native language is not English. Some students with English as a second language may find it difficult to comprehend aspects of learning, but teachers should attempt to spend some quality time with each of these students, so as to establish a good liaison and achieve a better understanding of their particular individual needs. If teachers are to build constructive relationships with ALL their students, they must get to know their students by spending quality time with them, while attempting to learn ways to enhance communication between different people.

Attitude, Tone and Words

At some stage during the day, students’ concentration will fade. They may be tired, hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable, disturbed by noise, cold or heat, or simply distracted by some personal matter. Concentration is lost or minimised under any such conditions. Under these circumstances, teachers may need to re-examine their learning program and include relaxation exercises, group games or other transition activities designed to keep student motivation levels at an acceptable level. Diverting from planned activities for a brief time may be enough to re-energise the group and help them to keep focussed and in tune with the learning.

Empathic Listening

Empathy refers to the ability of a person to understand the emotions and feelings of another person. Another way of looking at it is by “putting yourself in another person’s shoes”. A person displays empathy by sharing the emotion and feeling of the other person at the time. People are more able to empathise with others if they have personally experienced a similar emotion or feeling to the other person.

In the classroom, it is not always easy to empathise with your students’ viewpoint. Personality clashes, character differences, the status gap between teacher and students, and age/sex/cultural differences are just some of the obstacles to empathic listening and communication between the teacher and students.

Despite this, genuine communication between teacher and student can only occur by showing a willingness to try to understand the students’ feelings. Empathic listening in the classroom:

  •  Reduces tension and hostility between teacher and student
  •  Promotes honest communication and builds trust and confidence
  •  Gives the teacher time to clarify his/her thinking
  •  Enhances the students’ self respect and natural friendliness towards the teacher
  •  Keeps communication alive and active

Some of the ways teachers can convey the genuine desire to understand are:

  • Be attentive, alert and not easily distracted. Create a positive atmosphere with your non verbal behaviour - your body language and facial expressions.
  •  Be interested in the students’ needs.
  •  Listen in a friendly way:
  •  Be non-judgmental and do not criticise
  •  Respect privacy: do not ask intrusive or complicated questions
  •  Act like a mirror: reflect what you think is being felt and said
  •  Show that you are in no hurry. Remember that silences throughout teaching are good, as they give students opportunities to think and reflect on questions and topics in their mind before verbally giving an answer
  •  Don’t brush aside the person’s feeling with phrases like 'It’s not that bad' or 'you’re making a mountain out of a molehill'.
  •  Never belittle or negate any aspect of a problem, even if it seems unimportant to you. To a student, it may be crucial to their learning.
  •  Don't get emotionally involved, angry, upset or argumentative. You need to remain professional in your interactions with students, as you are a role model and the students are looking up to you for guidance and direction.
  •  Don't jump to conclusions or judgements about any students
  •  Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas or notions about any student based on what you may have heard from another colleague or former teacher.

Ways to indicate that you are listening:

  •  Give encouraging acknowledgements (eg. “Yes” or “I see” or nodding or “Ah ha”).
  •  Give non verbal acknowledgements (eg. relaxed body posture, eye contact, facial expression. Remember that people can speak with their bodies without saying a solitary word; a movement can indicate a great deal about how a person is feeling)
  •  Invite more responses (eg. 'Tell me more' or 'I'd like to hear about that' – these few words can imply you are keen for the student to expand on their message because it has relevance to you and the rest of the group).

Don’ts for group listening:

  • Don't interrupt
  • Don't change the subject
  • Don't rehearse in your head instead of listening
  • Don't interrogate
  • Don't teach or preach
  • Don't give advice
  • Don’t talk down to students. They can sense when the teacher is not on their level and may not respond appropriately
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SUPPLEMENTARY READING
Our principal and staff have written dozens of reference books as supplementary texts to complement studies in our school
These books are mostly available as ebook, through our online bookstore. They include the following titles. You can click on any of these titles to go to the bookstore and see more details, on that title (including a free download of some of the pages).