Thursday, October 8, 2009

Promoting Listening Skills

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear." - Winnie the Pooh

Teaching children how to listen isn't just about making them sit quietly when you want them to.It is much more.It is about helping children attend to sounds in our language, translated those sounds into meaning, respecting the speaker, learning in internalize self-monitoring (just a little when they are preschoolers), focusing.

One of my favorite ways to get children to quiet down is with a good, quiet book. I love Bedtime in the Jungle by John Butler or Quiet by Paul Bright, just for this purpose. Think soothing, rhythmic language when you selecting books for this purpose.

Games are also the best way to teach young children to listen. Take a listening walk in your school or outside. Draw children's attention to sounds - "We must be quiet and use our ears if we want to hear anything. What do you hear? Whisper."

When you are talking with your children and you want to talk louder because they are not listening, try talking softer, even to a whisper. Do something to draw their attention. A friend of mine, Sharon MacDonald, tells a hilarious story that shows the power behind engagement. One day in her classroom, the noise level was growing too high, even for her. She liked hearing conversation because she knew learning was often happening when children were talking with one another. However, it was nearly a roar.

Suddenly, she had a bright idea: she took a simple tape measure she had in her desk (one of those stiff that has a metal measuring "tape" that extends and contracts into a square container - like they use on construction sites). She slowly starting pulling out the tape, very intently looking at it all the while. It grew longer and longer. She didn't look over at the children; she looked at the tape.

Soon, several of her children came over to see what was up. She just kept looking at the tape as it grew longer and longer. A few more children came."What are you doing, Ms. MacDonald?", one inquisitive child asked. "Shhhh." was her only reply.

When the majority (or maybe it was even the entire class) was surrounding her, all staring up at her and the growing tape, she finally stopped. The tape was about 2 or 3 feet out by that time. Again, a child asked, "what are you doing?" She replied simply, "I was just measuring how loud we were. Look at this!" Then she slid the tape back into its container. "Now we are this loud, very quiet," she said in a small voice.

For the first time, her students had an opportunity to see a visual representation of their noise level. It was more meaningful than just "be quiet now".

Isn't that a great story? It shows us as educators that the key to getting children to listen is not scolding but is creative engagement. If we are involving children in exciting, intriguing, interesting activities (and changing activities when we recognize that children need that change - in other words - responding to their limited attention spans), we will have less correcting and directing to do.

Attending to sounds is also important, as most of our children will learn to read through a method called "phonics". This method connects sounds in our language to the graphic representations of letters, teaches children how to blend those sounds into words, and connect to the words the child knows in their oral vocabulary (or grows new vocabulary).

Stay tuned! In coming weeks you'll be hearing about my new book for preschool and kindergarten teachers: Before They Read: Teaching Language and Literacy Development Through Conversations, Interactive Read Alouds, and Listening Games.

I'd love to hear how you create engaging situations in your classroom. How to you creatively get children to listen?& Do you have a listening center? Do you have a theme on listening?

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