Do You Hear Me? Building Listening Skills in the Classroom

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Do you really listen? Many people lack really great listening skills, and so why should we be surprised if kids also are unable to listen. Listening skills are important in classrooms as they allow us to make sense of information communicated. Children with poor listening skills are disadvantaged immediately as they do not understand what is being taught, and have difficulty with social situations.

There is an exercise I like to do when teaching adults to communicate (though you can also use this exercise with all ages) It goes like this: people work in pairs, one person talks about a topic and the other person just listens. They are not even allowed to ask questions, only use non-verbal cues to keep the other person talking.

Believe or not, most people can’t get through this exercise without asking questions or worse yet, just talking about themselves instead of listening. However a good listener can keep the other person talking without a single word.

Listening skills are rarely part of any curriculum and so mostly we hope our students will be able to listen and are surprised when they don’t. Most teachers learn skills so they can communicate their message. However shouldn’t we also be helping kids learn skills to improve their own listening. Here are some practical ways to teach kids listening skills.

1.     Show Leadership and model listening behaviour

One way that children learn social and communication skills is by copying what others do, especially adults. If you want children to listen then you have to also listen to them.

There are lots of activities where teachers can listen to kids. One of my favourites is where you brain storm ideas as you might do with creative writing. You are showing how to listen, you are modelling non-verbal language to encourage the speaker, asking questions for more information and writing down the information. All skills that we would like kids to have as well.

2.     Play listening games in the classroom

There are plenty games and activities that encourage and build listening skills. They are useful as break out activities and also build useful skills.

  • Simon Says is the classic game with a range of different variations.
  • Drawing games, where one group describes a picture that the other group can’t see. They have to try and draw the picture from the description. It also teaches kids to put themselves in the other person’s position and clearly communicate.
  • Follow instruction games. There are many of these. Maybe they have to follow a set of instructions to go to a location. Walk 3 steps forward, turn left, walk 2 steps, turn right etc, or maybe build something or solve a problem.

3.     Get kids to explain information to others

Some people might call this turn and talk, and it works really well when you have self-paced activity time. When one child has finished a task that you taught them how to do, they then have to teach another student how to do that task.

4.     Repeat it back

This is one of the tricks they use in the military. When an order is given to you personally, you can’t just say “Yes sir”, you have to repeat the instruction back to show that you were listening and understood the instruction.

Want to know if kids understand the instructions that you have given, ask them to repeat it back to you. If you have explained something to the whole class then ask students to tell you what you have told them. It is also a great way to find out if what you have said made sense to them.

The core skill here is called reflection. This is where we repeat what was said back to someone in our own words to clarify that we understood what was said. This can also be a great skill to model with students when we listen to them.

5.     Getting kids to ask the right questions (active listening)

While paying attention, listening and understanding first time are important skills, learning how to ask the right questions when you don’t understand is another useful skill. A lot of the time when we think kids don’t listen in reality we have given them instructions that were wrong, incomplete or they failed to follow our meaning. A skill that they need to build up is asking intelligent questions when they don’t understand.

20 questions is the classic question asking game but you can incorporate question asking into any class. Great teachers often start by simply saying something like “We are going to play a game.” and then wait for the kids to ask “What game?”, “How many teams?”, “What is the size of the team?”, “How do we play?”

 6.     Story time

A great way to get kids, especially the younger ones, to actively listen is through stories. Great story readers are always asking the listener what they think is going to happen next, how different characters might be feeling and so on. This encourages thoughtful listening. Having stories read to them is also one of the best ways for young children to develop listening skills and increase concentration span.

Conclusion

The first thing any teacher or parent should do after reading this is to go out and practice their own listening skills. In fact writing this has reminded me that I should do some things to practice my own listening. It is not that we are bad listeners but really good listening is a difficult skill worth pursuing.

If we want kids to be great listeners we have to help them learn the skills be great listeners. Do you have any activities you use to build up listening skills in your students, then please share them in the comments section.

Bonus – Taboo

Here is a bonus game I use to help students learn to listen to multiple sources of information and filter out wrong, contradictory, unhelpful and extraneous information. This game comes under different names, such as Taboo, Hot Seat or I prefer to call it, Don’t Say That Word.

The class is divided up in the middle into two teams, with one team on the left of the classroom and one on the right of the class room. Volunteers from each team are brought to the front of the classroom. Usually I take two from each team so no one feels too shy. The players at the front face the other students so they can’t see the secret word that I will write on the board. Their classmates will give them clues until one of the players at the front calls out the correct word.

Now here is the trick. Players from the left side of the classroom stand on the right side of the room and the players from the right side of the classroom stand on the left side of the room. The other players will call out clues and the students at the front must guess the words. Students always complain, with everyone calling out clues it is hard to listen; which is exactly the point. The students at the front are being bombarded with sentences, clues, sounds, various signals, actions and so on. A lot of the clues are unhelpful and some are often wrong. For example, if you write the word money and someone thinks the word was actually monkey and starts talking about eating bananas and living in trees the students at the front have to filter out this information to work out the correct word.

Book Review: The Day the Crayons Quit

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As mentioned in a previous blog post (https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/type/aside/) using stories to discuss feelings with children is a great way to teach social and emotional skills, as well as build resilience. A new book that has quickly become a favourite at Pathways Trust and amongst children, is: “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

Duncan just wants to draw a picture, but when he opens up his box of crayons, he finds that they have all quit leaving behind letters for him. Each crayon writes about their feelings: Beige is quite dejected as he doesn’t feel he is as popular as brown and no one gets excited about colouring with him: grey is exhausted from colouring all those large animals; Green is quite happy being Duncan’s favourite colour, however he is worried about yellow and Orange. Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking, each think they are the correct colour for the sun.

For social and emotional learning it describes ways in which problems and complaints can be expressed. This is something that younger children often have never had the opportunity to learn. In addition the book can be used to facilitate discussion on how to resolve the problems. What should they say or what can be done to bring the crayons back to finish Duncan’s drawing.

Book Review: How Puzzles Improve Your Brain by Richard Restak

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Richard Restak is not just a world leading Neuroscientist, he is motivated to find ways to “keep my brain working at its best.” He describes his studies in this area as his “personal odyssey” and has written several books on this topic. How Puzzles Improve Your Brain: The Surprising Science of the Playful Brain explores both the underlying neuroscience along with practical methods utilizing puzzles to develop your brain.

Are puzzles something you loved as a kid or, like some of us at Pathways to Resilience Trust, you still love to do them? Did you go through mazes, tell riddles, solve crosswords, do Sudoku or engage in creative problem solving? Puzzles can be fun and we generally understand that puzzles should be somehow improving our brains.

Leading neuroscientist and puzzle maker Scott Tim team up to not only present a great range of fascinating puzzles but also look at how different puzzles improve specific areas of brain function.

Did you know that Sudoku can improve our logic, you can develop your creative problem solving skills with nothing more than a box of matches, and emoticons such as 🙂 and 😦 can help us develop our emotional understand of other people. Also learn how to improve your visual skills so you can perceive rather than just look and try various exercises to make your memory better.

This informative book will not only teach you more about how the brain works, it will also provide you with many fun and practical ways to improve both you and your student’s brains.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

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How aware are you of what is going on around you? How aware are you of yourself at this moment? How aware are you of the things you have done today? We are so distracted by our constant access to technology and sources of instant entertainment and communication that many people rarely have any time to be truly aware of themselves or the world around them.

Let me give you a little challenge. Try and remember exactly what your favourite food tastes like. What about the smell or the texture? Chances are that you can’t.

To expand your awareness try this lovely little exercise you can do by yourself or in groups. Get various foods and eat them slowly, savouring everything about them. It is best to choose a range of foods to include foods you like, feel ambivalent about and also don’t really like. This can really change your perception of these foods. Some people we have done this with, who had eaten chocolate all their life decided they didn’t like chocolate anymore. Other people learnt to appreciate foods they have always avoided.

The term mindfulness has been borrowed from Buddhism. It refers in general to the “attentive awareness of reality, both external and internal.” When we are being mindful we have a “Clear comprehension of what is taking place.”

Since the 1970s the term has been adopted within psychology to describe techniques and methodologies that encourage awareness and self-regulation as means to deal with stress, depression and other psychological issues. Numerous studies have shown these techniques to be successful with adults and recently attention has been paid to applying these techniques to children and adolescents where they have also been found to reduce anxiety and increase academic performance.

There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and self-regulation. When you relax and focus not only does this reduce anxiety and stress but allows better responses to your own feelings and self management of behaviour. Researchers believe it is this self-regulation that leads to improved academic performance.

If you are thinking that mindfulness involves sitting around meditating and so it is not for kids, especially the young ones, Pathways to Resilience Trust staff have many techniques and exercises that work with all ages.

Mind in a Bottle/Mind in a Jar

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We have previously blogged about this method. Have a bottle filled with water and

glitter, shake the bottle and it becomes cloudy. Put the bottle down the glitter will settle. Kids will watch the glitter while relaxing and gathering their thoughts. It is also a fun craft project for kids to do as well. Read more about this in our blog https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/helping-kids-also-helps-families/

Concentration beads

beadsIf you ask younger the kids to lie down and relax they will quickly start to wriggle, fidget or worse . However if you give them something to concentrate on it is much easier for them to sit or lie still. Give them a glass bead, the bigger the better. Have them hold it in their hand or even put it on their forehead. Simply ask them to concentrate and focus their attention on their bead.

Observe objects

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Have students observe an object, either something you bring into the classroom or an item that is already there. Take them through different aspects of the object. What is the objects shape, what is the subject’s colour, is it heavy or light, what is special about this item, how does it feel when you touch, how do you feel about it and so on?

Observe yourself

How do you feel when you listen to this poem, song or sound? Not only do students learn to become aware of their feelings, but also learn to label and talk about them.

Left hand (non-dominant hand)

We do so many things without really thinking about how we do them. If you ask students to do something they often do but with their non-dominant hand you will firstly provoke lots of giggles. You can then ask students to concentrate and be aware of all the little steps it takes to do something like write the word cat or draw a dog. You can also tie this into step plans which will we look at in a future blog.

Favourite Personal Mindfulness Exercises

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At Pathways to Resilience Trust we believe that teachers are also leaders. To lead others to be more mindful and self aware we also must find ways to practice our own self awareness. Here are some of ours.

Anne (Executive Officer):  Likes to take time out from work at her desk. She focuses her attention on what is happening out of the office window, watching the wind sway the trees or the sun reflect on various objects (she is the boss so she can get away with staring out the window).

Kate: Takes a timeout for herself to relax, she particularly likes to sit and watch the ocean waves.

James: Simply concentrates on breathing to anchor himself into the present moment.

Roy (Blog Editor): Can’t beat long walks for reflection and self awareness.

Helping kids also helps families

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Sometimes we can get so focused on helping children become more resilient and capable in their life that we forget that by helping children we can help others around them. James Ryan found this out recently with one the kids that he taught the Mind in a Bottle techniques to.

For those who are not familiar with Mind in a Bottle (also called Mind Jar) it uses a bottle or jar filled with water, glue (to make the water thicker) and glitter. If you shake the bottle the water looks like it is completely filled with the glitter floating around. The glitter represents our thoughts when we are agitated, anxious or angry. However if you we put the bottle down, wait and watch, then the glitter will settle down to the bottom of the bottle leaving the water clear, just like our mind when we relax.

The core technique taught with Mind in a Bottle are four relaxation steps.

  1. Stopping
  2. Watching the bottle
  3. Breathing
  4. Shifting attention to other things

One of the kids James taught this technique loved it because she took her bottle home and when her father became upset and agitated, she would said “Dad, look at the bottle, it is your mind. Watch the bottle until the water is clear”.

This blog provides more information on how to make a mind in a jar or bottle http://www.herewearetogether.com/2011/06/27/another-mind-jar/

Practical Skills for student wellbeing: Our placement student gives her opinion on the Trust

Pathways to Resilience Trust relies on the help of a range of volunteers and students doing work experience placements to help our already hard working staff. Currently we have a student – Lisa Gazan from Griffith University – undertaking her practical placement with us. She is currently studying a double degree in Education and Child and Family Studies. I asked Lisa about what she has learnt from her time here.

While she has learnt classroom management techniques from her studies and through practical placements in schools, she was impressed by the different approach used by Pathways to Resilience Trust to achieve better outcomes through social and emotional learning. Lisa appreciated the way these programs looked deeper into “Why” children act-out, as opposed to just the simplistic controlling and managing approaches that make children appear like robots.

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One thing she has taken from the Pathways to Resilience Trust is that the goal of teachers and schools is not just education, but the students’ general wellbeing. While teacher education in universities supports this ideal, she felt her studies have lacked practical methods and strategies to achieve student welfare. Lisa felt academics dominated Australian school curriculum and left little time or mind-space for important life skills. She felt that she will take away a lot of useful and valuable knowledge and skills from the evidence based programs used at Pathways to Resilience Trust that she can apply in her career to assist learners become resilient individuals.

Lisa feels the most important lesson she has learnt is leading through the power of mirror neurons. She advised “If we want students to display certain skills, we must model those traits to the children by re-examining ourselves first. We must take part in life-long learning with the children”.

Social Media for Teachers

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Many teachers and educators that I talk to steer clear of social media. Yet in a world where social media is an increasingly important part of young people’s lives, it is difficult for educators to stay on the outside with social media. Below are some of the top social media platforms and how and when you could use them.

Facebook Image

Facebook is the biggest social media platform and it is the one teachers live in dread of because it is easy for students to find you and even see what you get up to in your free time. What is more, if you end up with as facebook friends with managers and colleagues they will also learn more about your personal life than you would normally admit to.

How to use facebook: This social media tool is for your personal life. Use privacy settings in facebook to make sure only friends can see what you post and be careful who you friend. The scariest part is if someone else tags you in one of their photos others are likely to see that photo. Once again change your privacy settings to stop this.

Facebook is useful for professional reasons in that many organisations relevant to teachers have facebook pages. Quick plug, you can connect to us on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pathwaystoresilience. There are also facebook groups on a range of topics.

Read more about facebook for teachers on the tech blog mashable. http://mashable.com/2012/10/29/facebook-for-teachers/

LinkedIn

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Recently I read that in Australia more people have LinkedIn profiles than Facebook profiles. LinkedIn contains your professional profile and is a great way to build professional connections with other people in your field. LinkedIn also has groups, which are basically discussion forums, making LinkedIn the premium way to learn from and share information with other professionals.

How to use LinkedIn: Create a professional profile. Very often if you are going for a job interview or attending a meeting, people will try and find you on LinkedIn. You can also find connections with people who share your world view, work in your area or are just professionally interesting.

Because LinkedIn is a professional site there is far less bad behaviour. You can also feel comfortable about linking to your students. Remember it is a great way to see how former students are progressing in their career.

Twitter Image

Unlike other social media, Twitter has a huge focus on the now. Twitter breaks stories about planes making emergency landings in rivers, riots in the Middle East and what famous people have had for lunch. Because of its short (140 character) limit on posts and immediate nature it can either reward or frustrate its users.

How to use Twitter: Twitter is used in a variety of interesting and beguiling ways. Obviously it is useful for news. So you can link it to blogs, Facebook and other services to keep users posted on the fly. At the other extreme hash tags “#” can be used to create live discussions in larger classes or lectures. Twitter is perhaps the best social media platform for creating discussions with students. See this interesting article for twitter in the classroom. http://www.teachhub.com/50-ways-use-twitter-classroom

Blogs

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I am not sure everyone would agree with me that blogs are social media, as they predate most of what we call social media. Blogs are news sites where stories are published in the order they are posted. In other words a Diary. In many ways Facebook is also a type of blogging platform where you share your information with friends, however other popular blogging platforms include www.wordpress.com and www.blogger.com.

How to use blogs: Blogging is fraught with dangers. People have been fired or disciplined for posting the wrong things about work, life and students on their blog, including saying derogatory things about their students. Blog on controversial or sensitive topics at your own peril, however teachers can also blog on all sorts of education related topics. If you are a history teacher why not do a “This day in history blog” or if you are teaching PE you could blog about your own exercise goals and activities. The topics are endless and can become a handy reference of information.

YouTube

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YouTube has quickly become the place to post your videos. Most companies that create videos do not host them themselves but place them on YouTube.

How to use YouTube:  There are now many incredible free educational videos on YouTube on every imaginable topic. The videos can be used to supplement your teacher directed training, used for self-directed learning or you can assign videos to students as a remedial measure. The biggest frustration of YouTube is the tendency for many educational institutions to block YouTube, however you can download videos using free YouTube down load tools such as Free YouTube Downloader (http://download.cnet.com/Free-YouTube-Downloader/3000-2071_4-75219434.html)

Don’t forget that you can also create and post your own videos. Science experiment videos are popular as are craft, cooking and other practical topics. Remember you can earn advertising revenue for your postings and many people, including schools students, have earnt a decent income from posting educational videos. Just make sure you separate out your home video making from your work.

Here is a video at youtube on how teachers can use youtube. http://www.youtube.com/user/teachers

 Pinterest

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I will put this down as an honourable mention in my list of social media for teachers. Mostly because I have to confess I haven’t really used Pinterest. The visual style of Pinterest lets you create boards of photos, text and links. Many people use them for shopping, but Pinterest can also be used to create educational boards that students can interact with.

Read more about Pinterest for teachers on a Pinterest Board. http://pinterest.com/erinklein/pinterest-for-teachers/

 In Summary

Social media is now part of life. It is used for news, learning, social interaction and finding work. Using social media is not just the new trendy thing that will blow over quickly, rather it is something that can be used to enhance learning, engage with students who have a strong focus on social media and also prepare students for life.

For the cynics reading this, yes social media is having an adverse affect on student’s language and face-to-face social skills. As a result often educators find they have put an extra emphasis on those skills to compensate. Yet we can’t ignore that already many people are now using social media as their primary way to communicate and teachers shouldn’t be scared to get into the conversation.

How Pathways to Resilience Uses Social Media

 We use a number of different social media tools, currently the main ones are.

 

Keeping up to date with the latest findings in resilience, mindfulness, social and emotional learning and wellbeing.

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