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Active Listening for the Classroom

An Important Motivational Strategy

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Listening--really listening--to students is critical to the student/teacher relationship, for knowing their teacher is interested in what they are saying, makes students feel cared about and emotionally connected to school. Since research shows that feeling connected is requisite to students' motivation to learn, showing that we listen is important not only as a matter of kindness, but also as a motivational strategy.

It is easy to perform routine tasks while listening to students. In fact, at times teachers are evaluated for their multitasking ability; however, unless you appear to be completely focused on the student speaking to you, he is apt think you care neither about what he is saying or him. Consequently, in addition to really listening to students, we must also show we are really listening.

An effective way to demonstrate your attentiveness is to use active listening, a technique extraordinary

  • for gaining self-understanding,
  • for improving relationships,
  • for making people feel understood,
  • for making people feel cared about,
  • for the ease with which it is learned.

By using active listening with students, you build the relationship of trust and caring essential to students' motivation to learn. By teaching active listening, you help students overcome poor listening habits such as:

  • "Turning a speaker off and dwelling on the plethora of internal distractions we all have.
  • Letting an early remark of a speaker, with which one disagrees, develop a prejudice which clouds or puts a stop to any further listening.
  • Allowing personal characteristics of the speaker or his poor delivery to prevent understanding."

Since these poor listening habits interfere with classroom learning as well as interpersonal communication, learning active listening, specifically, the feedback step, may also improve students' study skills. In the feedback step the listener summarizes or paraphrases the speaker's literal and implied message. For example, in the following dialog, Para provides feedback to a student by guessing the student's implied message and then asking for conformation.

"Student: I don't like this school as much as my old one. People are not very nice.
Para: You are unhappy at this school?
Student: Yeah. I haven't made any good friends. No one includes me.
Para: You feel left out here?
Student: Yeah. I wish I knew more people."

Although some people recommend giving feedback with a statement rather than a question, the objective remains the same--to clarify either the factual and/or emotional content of the message. By refining the listener's interpretation of his statements, the speaker gains greater insight about his own feelings, he may reap benefits of a catharsis, and he knows the listener is really paying attention to him. The listener improves his ability to focus on a speaker and to think about implied meanings.

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