We believe children need to be good listeners before they can become great readers. We also believe that listening skills lead to better writing skills - for many of the same reasons.
Reading to understand and enjoy requires enough comfort with the language to make meaning from the words with some ease. For example, if I am handed a Spanish text - even on a subject in which I'm interested - I will have difficulty understanding it, let alone enjoying it, because I'm not comfortable with the language. I know the alphabet, so I can probably sound out the words, but I've heard so few of those words in context, and so few times, that I don't have enough information to properly understand what I'd be reading. If I were to spend time listening to fluent Spanish, I would start to pick up on vocabulary, gain some context for words, build on the few I know, and increase my ability to understand and enjoy Spanish texts.
Listening and reading are the ways we humans receive language. They're the ways we absorb information from others. Speaking and writing are the ways we produce language - the ways we convey information to others. Listening can support better writing because when taught explicitly, listening helps us to understand perspectives and provide the information our audience needs to receive the information we hope to convey.
Looking very closely at listening, there are six distinct steps:
- Perceiving and Discriminating - this is the simple act of hearing a sound
- Attending - focusing on a particular sound, or voice to the exclusion of others
- Assigning Meaning - context enters here - the listener acknowledges what is being heard or said and begins to understand it with respect to what he/she already knows
- Evaluating - assigning some value or utility to this new information
- Responding - this can be verbal or non-verbal, depending on the situation and the value assigned in the previous step
- Remembering - listeners remember important information for accessing later
These six steps typically happen so fast that we don't notice them as distinct, let alone think about them particularly. But, we can explicitly teach students the steps, encourage them to recognize and think about them. These good listening skills help students understand the perspectives of their audiences. Writers who understand their audiences can tailor their stories to make the information more easily digestible and even enjoyable. Listening to other authors' work also provides examples for tone, fluidity, and story structure.
Writer's Workshop IdeaTo give your students practice with listening and writing, begin an iterative writer's workshop.
- Asking everyone to listen to a story. Allow students to choose their own, from a curated selection, or assign a single text for all.
- Once everyone has listened, discuss how the author conveyed the story - what was the narration style, how were character conversations handled?
- Give students time to write a piece of their own.
- Ask students to read their stories to each other. Students can record themselves reading their own work, read aloud in person, or read each other's work back to the author. This process helps students hear the areas where they might make changes or improvements to their writing for themselves.
Explicit listening instruction can benefit your students in their social lives as well as supporting their academics. Being better at attending will help students focus on verbally conveyed material. Imagine better focus in class, and a generation of students who are better equipped to focus on the person talking to them instead of the device in their hands. Students who are better able to evaluate the value of information might think more carefully about rumors, helping to curtail gossip, and make space for combatting bullying.