Active Listening in the Classroom, an Important Motivational Strategy

Students paying attention in the classroom
 hdornak/Pixabay

There is an emphasis on students developing speaking and listening skills in classrooms. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) promote the academic reasons for providing ample opportunities for students to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations in order to build a foundation for college and career readiness. The CCSS suggest that speaking and listening be planned as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner.

But research shows that it is listening — really listening — to students that is critical to the student/teacher relationship. Knowing their teacher is interested in what they are saying makes students feel cared for and emotionally connected to their school. Since research shows that feeling connected is necessary for students' motivation to learn, showing that teachers 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 teachers appear to be completely focused on the student speaking, he or she is apt to think the teacher doesn't care about what's being said, or about them. Consequently, in addition to really listening to students, teachers must also show they are really listening.

An effective way to demonstrate teacher attentiveness is to use active listening, a technique that can be used for:

  • gaining self-understanding
  • improving relationships
  • making people feel understood
  • making people feel cared for
  • making learning easier

By using active listening with students, teachers build the relationship of trust and caring that is essential to student motivation. By teaching active listening, teachers help students overcome poor listening habits such as:

  • dwelling on internal distractions
  • developing a prejudice about the speaker due to an early remark with which the listener disagrees
  • focusing on the personal characteristics of the speaker or their poor delivery, which prevents 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 dialogue, Para provides feedback to a student by guessing the student's implied message and then asking for confirmation.

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. Through refining the listener's interpretation of the student's statements, the speaker gains greater insight into their own feelings and may reap the benefits of catharsis.

The speaker also knows the listener is really paying attention. At the same time, the listener improves their ability to focus on a speaker and to think about implied meanings.

 Active Listening in the Classroom

Although the feedback step is at the heart of active listening, take each of the following steps to be effective with this technique:

  1. Look at the person, and suspend other things you are doing.
  2. Listen not merely to the words, but the feeling content.
  3. Be sincerely interested in what the other person is talking about.
  4. Restate what the person said.
  5. Ask clarification questions.
  6. Be aware of your own feelings and existing opinions.
  7. If you have to state your views, say them only after you have listened.

These steps, paraphrased from "The Self-Transformation Series, Issue no. 13" are simple. However, becoming skilled in active listening requires considerable practice after the purpose and steps are thoroughly explained and examples are analyzed.

Performing the steps effectively depends on giving appropriate feedback and sending appropriate verbal and non-verbal signals.

Verbal Signals:

  • "I'm listening" cues
  • Disclosures
  • Validating statements
  • Statements of support
  • Reflection/mirroring statements

Non-Verbal Signals:

Because most people are occasionally guilty of sending messages that interfere with communication, it should be especially helpful to review "Gordon's 12 Roadblocks to Communication."

It is also possible to apply active learning for problem behaviors for a better classroom environment.

Sources:

"Self-Transformation Series: Active Listening." Issue No. 13, Theosophical Society in the Philippines, 1995, Quezon City, Philippines.
"The Roadblocks to Communication." Gordon Training International, Solana Beach, California.