Modifying How We Listen

My boss, mentor, and friend Jan Murphy tweeted a blog post to me this morning by George Couros.  In the post, Couros makes some good connections between mindsets and listening. This one, in particular, stuck out:

“We talk about one way of learning and the power it may have, then someone doesn’t agree with our point of view, and sometimes label others with a lack of a ‘growth’ mindset.”

George uses mindsets to underpin the importance of listening.  He cites Stephen Covey, (“seek first to understand”), but I kept thinking about Carlina Rinald while I read his words:

"listening means being open to differences, recognizing the value of another’s point of view and interpretation”

In my experience, there are  very few people that are able to accurately assess if they are good listeners.  If general, people who lack a skill are also poor judges of if they have that skill.  What I’ve come to realize this year, is that in classrooms we need to stop saying “listen to me” and instead build listening into teaching.  Here are two modifications on existing ideas that I have been playing with this year:

Modification 1: Coding/Categorizing Exit Slips

While the exit slip is often a great formative assessment tool, its power can be amplified when used as a tool for coreflection with students.  Normally the slips are used to inform teacher instruction.  Involving students in the process makes them better listeners. Asking students to categorize and code their classmates’ thinking (by organizing slips into categories/themes) reveals a lot about student thinking.  Moreover, it helps them get a sense of where they are as a class.  

The themes and categories that they choose, also reveal a lot to the teacher about their thinking.  Coding slips can give a way better sense of where students are in their learning than, the actual papers that they submitted.

Modification 2: Classroom Conversations

While conversations are meant to be places for people to share with each other, it doesn’t always turn out that way.  Since the fall, I’ve been thinking about Daniel Pink’s words:

“When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next – and end up doing a mediocre job of both.”

This year, during classroom conversations I’ve used two different strategies: 1) mapping conversations and 2) transcribing and analyzing those conversations.

Mapping allows students to see who is saying a lot, and who we might want to hear from.  It also shows if anyone said anything of particular interest and if someone might be being picked on by the group.  Mapping has the power to reveal conversational bias.

Transcribing is powerful too.  Like exit slips, if a conversation transcript can be analyzed by students, they can start to detach from ideas.  When an idea is less of a personally held commodity, we can be more rational about it. In order to further detach from ideas as personally held things, I’ve also taken to turning transcripts into world clouds, to see if there are any noticeable trends in class conversations.

Like George, I thinking good listening is critical for good teaching.  There’s a moral imperative attached to listening.  The more we are able to honour each other through listening, the more we are able to honour each other’s dignity.  

But… If we can’t figure out how to listen to each other, then why we listen becomes a "moo point”.


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