Monday, April 14, 2014

L: Listen to Learn and Learn to Listen #AtoZChallenge

Hearing is physiological.
Listening is intentional.

Often we fail to understand this distinction. Through a biological process, our ears conduct sound through our brains. In contrast, we choose whether or not we will listen. 

Often, we resist listening. We think we won't be interested in what the speaker has to say. We think we know what the speaker--or in the case of teachers, the student--will say. We think we already know the information, so we have no need to listen. We rely on technology to listen for us, either through recording the speaker's words or as my students often do, by taking a picture of the notes on the board. 

Standard 6 of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the Speaking and Listening standard, yet not once will you find the word listen in the ELA.SL.11-12 standard, and the word listeners only appears once. Perhaps this is because those who wrote the standards aren't too adept at listening themselves. It's easy to tell someone to listen but teaching listening requires much greater skill. This standard troubles me because if focuses on evaluating a speaker's or text's message, as though that's the primary focus and purpose of listening. In Standard 6, the sole purpose of listening seems to be to formulate a response. 

I contend that one of the main reasons students and teachers don't listen as well as we should is because we're too busy anticipating what we'll say next rather than working to listen and to develop empathy for the speaker and/or text. 

One of my favorite resources for teaching listening in my speech classes is Julian Treasure's TED Talk "Five Ways to Listen Better." In this talk, Treasure identifies why "we are losing our listening" and five strategies for developing intentional listening. 

Our survival depends on our ability to and willingness to listen. Remember, listening is intentional. 

"Attentive listening helps us develop empathy," says Leon Berg. In the following 2013 TEDx talk,  in which he describes the Council model as a way to learn to listen. 

We live in a world of talkers, as the Sunday morning talk shows and AM radio illustrate. Talking heads are literally paid to talk--not listen. But Berg asks us to "imagine a world where listening is highly valued." How would our personal relationships, our schools, our governments, our world change if we took a little more time to listen to one another? 

I know the challenges I face when listening, and I worry that I don't always convey a sense that I am listening. As Kate Di'Camillo says in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, it's in listening that our hearts open wide and wider still. How can they not when we not only hear but intentionally listen, too. 

*For a list of other posts on listening, including lesson plans and links to Google docs w/ resources form two conference presentations, click here


  1. It is very important to really listen to people, otherwise you might just miss something really important! ♥

  2. Very interesting post. I need to pass it along to my husband to read. I've noticed that in our "old" age, we're having more trouble communicating. And I've also noticed that he's so busy thinking of what he wants to say, that he's quit listening! :) Sometimes I catch myself formulating a reply while someone's telling me something. So, yes... we need to practice intentional listening. Excellent lesson here!

  3. Listening is a valuable skill. When we listen, we can hear more than words. We can hear emotions, pain, hidden meanings, and truth.