A while back, I was co-teaching a third-grade bilingual summer school class in a low-income urban setting. I didn't speak any Spanish except for a few words I remembered from a class I took in high school. I found myself, as well as my co-teacher, having a hard time getting the students to listen. They had become so reliant on us repeating ourselves that it just became part of our daily structure. I wanted to encourage active listening, so I decided to try a few different strategies. Here are five ways that I got my students to actively listen that summer.
1. Get to Know Your Students
It figured my colleague would have an easier time getting to know our students because she spoke Spanish. I, on the other hand, could only say "Hola" and count to 10 in Spanish. But because English was their second language, it was easier to bond with them than I anticipated. I took a few minutes every day to sit and talk to each student about their lives, hobbies, interests, and goals. The more I got to know them, the more they listened when I was teaching. I also used the information I learned to help me plan lessons and activities throughout the weeks ahead.
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2. Create Simple Commands
Since the students were only in third grade, I thought a good active listening strategy to start with was to give them a series of simple commands to really grab their attention. Instead of just telling the students to turn to page 10 in their math books, I tried to give them a few other commands first to make sure they were really listening. I would say, "Everyone stand up. Now touch your head with your right hand. Now sit down, take out your math book, and turn to page 10." Using these simple commands really captured their attention, and once I had their attention it was easier to keep it. The key is giving one direction at a time and waiting for everyone to follow suit, and making sure not to repeat yourself.
3. Listen More and Talk Less
As teachers, our first instinct is to take over the classroom and do the majority of the talking. But what if we allowed students more opportunities to speak? Then, when it's our turn to talk, they might be more apt to listen. Active listening is an important skill for students to have. We need our students to listen when we speak so they can obtain information and comprehend it. I decided to try out this strategy by doing a few mini lessons. Every day, I increased the amount of time students talked within their groups and decreased the amount of time I talked to the class. At the end of the week, I noticed that when I did speak, my students were more engaged.
4. Give Students a Listening Task
Another great way to encourage active listening is giving students a listening task. Each day, I had students pair up and practice listening to me and then to their partners. For example, I'd say, "I'm going to discuss three facts about our solar system. I will pause after each fact, and you'll take turns telling your partner what you heard in your own words." Next, I had the students take over and read a paragraph from their textbooks to their partners. Once the student was done reading, their partner would reiterate what was read in their own words. The students seemed to get the hang of this strategy fairly quickly and did very well with it.
5. Listen for a Purpose
I've found that when you give students a purpose, whether it's for reading or writing, they become more engaged and more apt to listen to you. Since my students did so well with the listening task, I decided to try to consistently give them a purpose for whatever they were doing. For example, before they had to read from their textbooks, I would tell them to look at the title and the bold headings, and write down any questions they had before reading. If I was teaching a lesson, I'd make sure to pause frequently and ask students to write down a question about what they'd just heard from me. Whether my students were learning from an educational video or a piece of technology, I'd have them listen or look for a purpose. I found this strategy to be very effective.
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Though my time teaching in a bilingual setting was brief, it taught me some of the active listening strategies that I continue to use today. Hopefully they'll produce the same positive results in your classroom as they did in mine!