11 March 2013 11:09 AM

Listen Up in Class

by rbavaria

We parents and teachers spend a good deal of time repeating ourselves.  It comes with the territory, and we accept that.  Family schedules.  Classroom routines.  Reminders about playing nicely with siblings and friends.  Cleaning up after ourselves.  Family schedules.  Classroom routines.  Reminders about playing nicely with siblings and friends.  Cleaning up after ourselves.


But it’s also our job as the Adults In The Room to teach kids the necessary skills they need to be successful in school.  The most useful and basic of these skills is listening.


Some kids listen well, paying attention, and getting it right the first time.  These kids are known as Pod Aliens.


Most kids listen with full attention only when it’s kid-gossip, play-oriented, or immediate gratification.  Plus, the sun, the moon, and the stars must be aligned.


Otherwise, we parents and teachers repeat, remind, nudge, prompt, and restate until a slight glimmer of recognition comes from their eyes.


Listening in the classroom is a fundamental skill.  Listening to directions, to explanations, to lessons, to discussions, to other people’s comments, to answers to questions – it’s all a basic part of learning. 


How to teach kids to listen in class?  Here are some pointers I’ve picked up over the years.  Share them with your kids.  Encourage, support, and motivate them with small rewards and consequences.  And don’t be surprised if – when – you have to repeat them. 


  1. Determine to do it.  Make “I will listen in class” a goal for this week, quarter, or semester.  Ask your kids for their suggestions on how to achieve this goal.  This gets them to contribute to their own success – plus, it sounds better coming from themselves than from you.
  2. Tell a few trusted friends.  Encourage them to tell a couple of their friends of their goal to listen more carefully in class.  Their study buddies, for example.  If they can help each other, so much the better.  Strength in numbers.
  3. Ask teacher for help.  This is hard for some kids, but it can be very helpful.  We teachers like it when kids step up, when they own their behavior.  If we can help, we’re right there.  “Mrs. Lendanear, can you call on me a couple of times today, just to keep me on my toes and make me listen up?”  When she revives, she’ll be happy to do so.
  4. Change your seat if necessary.  Sometimes we’re sitting too near our mischievous friends, and the temptation to goof off is strong.  If your child doesn’t feel comfortable asking for her seat to be changed, you can help her by role-playing or – when all else fails – writing a note on her behalf to Mrs. Lendanear.  Have her help you with the note.
  5. Learn to listen strategically.  There’s an awful lot of talk going on in any classroom, especially with all the group work and team projects.  It’s hard to break through all the clutter.  Teach them about giving listening-priority to the teacher, to team leaders, and to the kids who really seem to know what they’re talking about.
  6. Take good notes.  Taking good notes is as important as listening carefully.  The two skills go hand-in-hand.  Encourage good note-taking .  Every once in a while – randomly but regularly works best – ask to look at their notes.  Are they complete?  Dated?  Organized?  Neat?  If so, reward.  If not, extend homework time to re-do the notes to your satisfaction.
  7. Review those notes.  No sense for kids to take good notes if they’re not going to review them.  Make sure they review their notes regularly with study buddy classmates or with you.  Reviewing good notes is like listening twice.
  8. Ask questions.  Help your children feel comfortable asking questions in class.  As they do their homework, encourage them to write down what’s giving them trouble, what they don’t understand, what puzzles them.  Writing down the questions makes it easier to ask in class tomorrow.  It’s like having a script and gives confidence. Rehearse, if needed. 
  9. Contribute.  Taking part in class discussions not only extends learning, it guarantees that kids will listen.  You can’t contribute if you don’t know what the topic is.  Help your kids come up with some lesson-relevant comments they can make in class tomorrow.  They’ll startle their teachers and amaze their friends. 
  10. Make time for socializing before or after class.  There’s plenty of time during the school day for socializing, joking around, letting off steam, and being a kid.  Listening in class doesn’t mean kids won’t be able to do any of those things.  Remind them that it’s okay to loosen up at recess, at lunch, or other unstructured time.  In class, though, it’s a good idea to listen more than talk.


Learning to listen is a slow process for lots of kids.  First of all, they already know everything.  And second, listening eats into play time.  But when we adults gently, firmly, and consistently insist on good listening habits in school, we’re making academic success just a little easier.




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