5 Classy Listening Lessons

Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.

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Listening Is a Partnership

Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.

First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”

Stop Moving

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Listening takes loads of practice.

Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.

Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.

One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to Listening GIF-downsized_largestand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.

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In addition to the giant pleco, there’s 7 jeweled cichlids in this bad boy.

Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.

Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.

Eye-Contact

You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…

  • I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
  • In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
  • paying attentionIf the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.

    This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.

Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.

Smile

After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.  

Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.

Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)

Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words

  • Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
  • Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
  • At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
  • And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
great listening
Listening should be inviting information into your brain.

Third, Questions Show You Care.

Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.

  • “How long were you there?”
  • “When did this happen?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What happened next? Or, after that?”
  • “Why did you do that?”
  • These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.

Also, questions can clarify.

Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Hearing is passive, while listening is active.

Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…

Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.

In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.

  • Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
  • Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
  • Use questioning to deepen understanding.
  • Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
  • Summarize the main idea.

Fifth, Assessment: Google Form (10 Questions)

My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.

There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.

Post Script(s) for Teachers

  • Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
  • Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of theScreen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.40.37 AM questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
  • Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that  makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
  • Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.

Sources:

Daniels, N. (n.d.). Listening Exercises for Kids That Actually Work [Web log post]. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/listening-exercises-for-kids/#.W5Rq4ZNKjUI

Rycroft, E. (n.d.). TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM [Web log post]. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-listening-skills/

7 Powerful Ways Classy People “Stand Out”

IMG_9266Page 11 within introduction to “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” by Thomas C. Murray and Eric C. Sheninger  (2017) discusses the typical high school diploma’s lessening value. The authors suggest that “the opportunities available for those with only a high school diploma remain in a freefall.”(Italics added IMG_9264for emphasis.) This got me thinking. First, I made a text to film connection. Just recently I had rewatched the movie “21” (Luketic, 2008) starring Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, and something that stood out to me more during this second viewing than the first was the premise for the whole movie: It opens with an interviewer asking Jim Sturgess’s character what he has done that stands out. Sturgess is applying for a grant that would fund his education at Harvard Medical School. The interviewer points out all of the impressive credentials that the applicant has earned, along with powerful letters of reference… But… he tells Sturgess that there are thousands of applicants with similar qualifications. He is going to need to “dazzle”.

Then, I got to thinking: What could students do to stand out? How about class? There is no shortage of articles streaming the Internet about declining manners. And, in my own experience, students who behave in an extraordinarily polite manner stand out as noteworthy individuals. 

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Portrait: Students cleaned up debris after water play.

A year ago I acquired an iPhone 8 Plus. This phone has a dual photo lense. This allows me to use a feature called Portrait. When I activate this, I can focus on something and everything else goes out of focus. My photos have gone from “very nice” to “stunning”. Classy people capture the attention of those around them by displaying behavior that stands out. Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma. Here are six more “P” words that “phoster” class.

  • Say, “Ma’am” and “Sir” when talking to people. Speak, publicly and privately, in a way that distinguishes you from others. Use impressive (but correct) vocabulary. Do not be profane or crass. Crass is the antithesis of class–whole separate blog on this around the corner. Pronunciation.
  • Stand/sit up tall and straight; Posture is a rare and separating phenomenon today. It shows pride and assurance. These are characteristics people gravitate toward–posture could very well be the only thing that puts some in a leadership position. Confidence is a magnet, and posture presumes it.
  • Treat others kindly/be positive. Who is drawn to the Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer? No one. Here is a whole other blog: Find and express something positive about every single thing. The most challenging things to be positive about will cause you to shine as a light in the darkness — Remember, the idea is to stand out.
  • Be polite: Display good manners. In addition to saying “Ma’am” and “Sir”, behave in ways that show “good upbringing”.
    • Put others first; This is more than The Golden Rule.
      • Hold door
      • Offer seat
      • Clean up after yourself
      • Communicate absence: “I’m going to be late.” “Sorry, I was late…” “Excuse me for a moment…”
      • Treat others even better than you would expect to be treated, raising the global politeness factor a fraction of kindness.
        • #manners has stories of guys literally standing up whenever a lady stands. Talk about “standing out”!
        • This kind of thing is chivalrous and archaic, and some women may not like inequality of being treated differently, but in general, showing extreme respect is going to make you memorable, either way. And, that is what you are going for.
        • Look up some outdated polite actions that would make you seem classier than even the classiest to standout that much more.
    • Be helpful
      • You see someone struggling; Offer a hand.
      • Does a peer need some assistance figuring something out; Help. They will remember the action, but they will also remember YOU.
    • Communicate gratitude
      • This could be through, but is not limited to, writing thank you cards.
      • Do something for someone in return.
      • Tell everyone “Thank you” for everything.
        • A week ago I was conducting a professional development course on using iPads in the classroom. At the very beginning I was rushing around trying to get everything working; projector, Apple TV, computer, etc. I bumped into an unoccupied chair and said, “Excuse me”. People laughed and commented on me talking to chairs. I overheard them and, laughing at myself, commented right back  with, “Yeah, that’s right, I apologized to a chair!” It made everything more comfortable and connected me, the frantic facilitator with my waiting audience, breaking the ice. This isn’t gratitude, but it shows behaving in a classy way, ALWAYS, even to chairs. How much more will that type of person show kindness to a peer? Thank “everything”. 
        • Be the kind of person who can’t help but be thankful.
      • When you earn something, be proud, BUT when you get something without earning it, be thankful. It is not classy (Here is a whole other blog in the making.) to act like you deserve things. Do not assume entitlements. Be grateful for everything.
  • ALWAYS be publicly presentable (Here is a bonus “P” word;) This isn’t to say that you should be dressed- or done up at all times. Simply be outwardly and inwardly prepared to speak to important people no matter where you are. If you are working in the garden, you will look messy, but your person, and even your work space, could be neat–a working neatness. If an important person were walking by, would he/she say, “Wow, impressive!” or would they look down on you and your work.
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    “Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma.”
    • Integrity is classy: Here is an idea for a whole other independent blog! Suffice to say, being the same person all of the time, whether you are building a sunken pirate ship, which I was working on just yesterday, or speaking in front of people, will cause others to view you as someone reliable, dependable, and consistent; someone they can count on.
    • Sometimes you must detour to class. The easiest example of this is my mom answering the phone in the middle of yelling at my sister and me. She could be mid-scream, and when the phone rang, she would instantly smile and sweetly say, “Hello” with a voice devoid of any trace of the hurricane winds blowing around her. Thank goodness for those phone calls. If we had had cell phones back then… Was she displaying integrity? Yes. We will get messy, metaphorically, but must be classy under it all. What would happen if my mom spoke to the person on the phone with the same volume and tone that she had just been using to communicate to my sister and me? Would that be more congruent with integrity?
  • Be productive. I’m not telling you to build furniture or anything. A classy person adds something to society or the world at large. Produce something of value that others can use. This is why I blog. You will have your own way of contributing; make yourself valuable to others. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can influence/do something for one person to create personal worth.
    • This could be as simple as smiling.
    • My daughter (seven years old) has begun saying nice things to service persons: “This food is delicious!” “I really like your hair.” Any person at any age can add value to the world.
    • Be dependable. Being that student in class whom a teacher can count on to do the tasks that require respect and responsibility is very valuable!

“In today’s global economy, a high school diploma is simply not enough for people to succeed” (Murray & Sheninger, 2017, p. 11) (italics added for emphasis). Thomas Murray and Sheninger’s (2017) book is for educators. It outlines things schools and teachers can do to align with the impending revolution of technology taking over the world. These ideas equip educators to provide the “more” that students receiving diplomas need to succeed. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, but I am happy to announce that just the introduction is extremely thought-provoking!

There are many other ways to stand out. You could fly to Vegas on the weekends, count cards, win tons of money, secretly live the highlife, and turn in a corrupt professor (Luketic, 2008). While that sounds exciting, I’ll at least begin with being classy.

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“Portrait” in iPhone camera helps focus on what’s most important. Be an important person.

Sources:

Crouch, M. (2011, November). How to Teach Good Manners: Raising a polite kid in a rude world isn’t as hard as it seems. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.parents.com/kids/responsibility/manners/teaching-manners-kids/ [This article breaks down what manners are best to learn at different ages.]

Luketic, R. (Director). (2008). 21 [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Sony Pictures.[inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as told in Bringing Down the House, the best-selling book by Ben Mezrich” (Wikipedia)]

Murray, T., & Sheninger, E. (2017). Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pederson, T. (2016, April 25). Survey: Most Americans Think Good Manners are Declining. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/04/25/survey-most-americans-think-good-manners-are-declining/102262.html [This was published before the 2016 presidential election.]

The Value of a High School Diploma. (2016, January 2). The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/the-value-of-a-high-school-diploma.html