“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”
Ask any group of newly qualified teachers about their fears and worries for the year ahead and many cite behaviour issues as a major concern. Yet it pays to drill down further into those worries to determine exactly what it is that’s the issue. When we do this, invariably the answer centres around children’s listening skills.
Not being listened to can feel deeply disrespectful, which can trigger strong reactions in us as we struggle to find strategies to calm a class down and get them to the point where they can listen, engage and learn.
It would be a mistake to think that we can teach children how to listen and expect a favourable response every time. Listening skills need to be taught, experienced and taught again and again throughout a child’s school career. Three pointers to consider:
– Help a child to listen by making sure they feel listened to. This document from the Department for Education, Listening to and involving children and young people contains statutory guidance on general principles of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child. It covers pupil voice and offers many links for further information.
– Be clear about listening rules. Never start teaching until there is silence in the room.
– Make eye contact when speaking to and listening to a child. When speaking to a class, too, ask all to look your way. It can also help to ask children to paraphrase what you have told them.
Having a class looking your way, at least with the appearance of listening, is only part of the story. Getting them engaged is the next step. Some ideas:
– Active listening will lead to engagement. Passive listening won’t. Get to know what helps children to listen actively in your room. This is likely to be a calm, quiet environment devoid of distractions, being challenged adequately, and having the opportunity to participate and demonstrate understanding.
– Use questioning skilfully to encourage critical thinking. Don’t rely on the few who will always raise a hand, tempting as it is. Draw out evidence of understanding.
– Consider using a variety of challenges as a way into learning – some paired, in groups, and individual. Routine is important, but variety will help guard against passivity and complacency.
A calm class, engaged in what’s happening is an excellent start. But what we need is learning.
– Find out if your school has a shared definition of learning. What are staff aiming for in the classroom? This is a fundamental stage of the process.
– Think about what you want children to learn, when you want them to learn by, and the evidence you need to know that learning has taken place.
– Consider the role that assessment has in your cycle of listening, engaging and learning. In addition, what is the interplay between assessment and feedback and how can this be timed to maximise the potential for moving learning on.
If you’re starting out or continuing your career, best of luck for the week ahead!