In the English language arts Common Core standards, there are standards about speaking and listening as well as presentations. As teachers around me have unpacked the standards over the past few years, the concept of listening cited specifically as a standalone standard has been questioned. Teachers have claimed, “I expect students to listen every single day, so I'm covering that standard every single day of the year.”
The reality is that the standard of listening needs to be taught, not just expected. We probably all know adults—maybe even some within our school—who need practice at being a good listener. At times, I would include myself in that batch. Listening is a skill that should be practiced and taught explicitly.
But most curricula don't include any kind of listening lessons other than a short sidebar example to incorporate into the regular curriculum. So where is a teacher to turn if you want to teach listening?
Working With the Standards
For starters, teachers should reread the standards to make sure there is clarity on what students are required to learn. Whether it is second grade, sixth grade, or even juniors and seniors, the standards require more than just comprehending a text that is read aloud. As the students grow older, each of the standards expect the students to respond to another’s point of view, follow guidelines of collaborating with others in a group, and support conversations through the use of probing and paraphrasing. All of these, along with being in the standards, are life skills that will greatly benefit any of our students as they mature.
To break the standards down to some degree, there are pieces that involve listening to other students in the classroom (like the examples given above), and then there are pieces of the standards that involve listening comprehension (as in reading comprehension). These would vary widely in how most teachers approach them.
To start with the easier of the two pieces, think about listening comprehension like you would reading comprehension. Students listen to a story and have to treat it like a text using comprehension strategies. In many classrooms, this is called a read aloud. The teacher selects a story to read to the students and monitors their comprehension as they go.
One source for great lesson planning resources can be found in the Read Aloud section of Achieve the Core. These lessons help the teacher to break down the structure and complexity of the text that is being read aloud. This supports listening comprehension and also hits the standards. Here is one example of a lesson from Achieve the Core that cites A Seed is Sleepy as the read aloud content. Students and teachers both seem to love classroom read aloud sessions, but some of these ideas and resources can really help to increase the rigor for students. Another site worth considering is EngageNY, which also has listening and speaking tools for students.
Listening to Others
The second part of the standards could be summarized as listening to others—this is the harder one and the area with fewer resources to use. Having been recently trained in the Adaptive Schools model, I would highly suggest this professional development for any school: leaders, teachers, students, and even community. It focuses on how to make time together more efficient, but embeds the seven norms of collaboration, tools for how groups can make decisions together, and how to form working agreements so that groups and teams can work collaboratively. It is great for teachers to learn about, but also has direct implications in the classroom as we ask students to do the same.
Another good model for instruction is Kagan cooperative grouping. This might seem more like an instructional strategy than a curriculum (because it is), but Kagan has many of the pieces that the standards have: established norms for talking, how to consider viewpoints of others, etc. Again, this is a great training for teachers that will permeate with students in the classroom. There are also some best practices that can not only hit the standards, but will also create a much more positive culture in the classroom.
Actual teaching tools for this are few and far between, which is probably because of the nature of the activity that is taking place. It isn’t so much about what is being talked about (and therefore listened to), it is more about having a process in place for how this can work.
It is important to note that there are many more resources about how to help students listen to teachers in the classroom, as opposed to resources for how to help students listen to one another. Through some of these models of discussion, and a few good read aloud sessions during the year, a teacher can support student success in the listening standards.
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