Listening involves three abilities: attention, hearing and the understanding of language. Within a school setting pupils can present with wide variance in their development of attention and language. Equally, young children may experience difficulties with hearing.
In order to listen we must first give our attention to the sounds we hear, whether it be music, someone speaking or background noises. This involves increasing our conscious awareness of it by prioritising it above other external and internal stimuli. By about 5 years old most of us can listen whilst doing another task. However, if we become absorbed in a task, thereby increasing our attention to it. there will be a a reduction in our ability to listen. There is no change in our ability to hear the sounds. Instead it is the fluctuations in our attention which determine whether we listen to them or not. Each of us will have certain sounds and words that grab our attention when we are not listening. Most of us will respond to sudden loud noises, our own name and words that have personal or emotive relevance such as the place where we live or a swear word.
Attending in the classroom
We listen best when other distractions are eliminated or at least reduced. Teachers should ensure that children are cued for listening before giving instructions and explanations. Strategies for gaining attention before giving important information:
Ensure pupils stop their activity completely
Establish listening cue - young children may respond to sound cues like tambourine, older students a verbal signal such as:
'I need you to listen now (pause)'
Though it may be necessary to raise the voice to gain attention, quickly bring down to quieter level for giving instruction or explanation
You may have to ignore low level non-compliance from pupils with specific special educational needs but never talk over groups of children
Avoid phrases that divert their attention from the present to the future. For example:
'Just before we go to play/assembly/lunch/home I need to tell you...'
Ensure instructions are chronological. For example:
'Copy down the homework off the board.' (Pause) 'Get your bags ready for going home'
is better than
'Before you pack your bags copy the homework off the board'
Reduce teacher talk so that children know that if you are talking it is important.
Only stop the whole class doing an activity if you want the whole class to listen. Otherwise, work with the individual or group
Stay within the attention span limits for the age group and use movement breaks or brain gym to help refocus
Some children may need individual invitations to listen with their class. For example:
'John, I need everyone in the class to listen now.'
Hearing in the classroom
Consider the ambient noise levels and take appropriate action to reduce environmental noise pollution from traffic, planes, other classrooms and corridors, projectors, computers, uncarpeted areas of the classroom, pupil movement etc. If your classroom has a soundfield system fitted then ensure it is always used. If you need children to listen for long periods consider how comfortable they will be if sat on the floor, or turning around in their chair. Ensure they can see your face when possible and avoid talking when facing away to use a whiteboard etc.