Executive Principal's Blog

The Art of Listening

30 September 2016

In the first month of term we have been doing a lot of work on listening, which is probably at least as important as speaking in how people learn. 

At Wren, we are very favoured with good behaviour from our students.  A visitor walking around the Academy will hopefully see a range of activities going on in lessons but where students are meant to be listening, either to their teacher or to one of their peers; the visitor will normally observe a quiet and respectful atmosphere.

What we work hard to impress upon our teachers, particularly those new to the Academy, is that this quiet and respectful atmosphere does not necessarily equate to good listening taking place.  Because our students are so well behaved they are unlikely to fidget or fuss if the lesson content or delivery does not interest them. Many of the signs of off pitch delivery which would quickly become obvious by students' demeanour in other schools do not manifest themselves at Wren. Consequently, our teachers must take nothing for granted. They need to be skilled in  ensuring that active listening is taking place, not simply quiet compliance.

So how do we do this? Whilst all of the outward signs might look positive, how can you be confident that someone is really listening? There are things that all of our teachers should be doing to ensure good listening takes place:

  • first comes well planned lessons with the needs and abilities of all students in mind. Teachers need to produce engaging lessons with pace and a variety of activities.
  • next comes our 'no hands up' approach to questioning in class. By discouraging hands up, teachers are able to spread their questioning across all students and no-one knows who will be asked next. This simple technique can have a remarkable effect in raising student engagement with lessons.
  • checking what students have learned during the lesson is really important.  It is no use teachers checking books after the lesson and then realising that some students weren't listening.  Effective teachers carry out mini assessments at regular intervals to make sure that everyone is paying attention.
  • it is crucial that we take opportunities to educate children about why good listening is important and in their own self interest.  Occasional 'nudges' when the subject comes up tend to be better than full blown lectures (which the children will probably not listen to anyway!) and we need to keep at this; gradually helping our students to improve their skills.  This is where parents come in too of course, their role in encouraging good listening at home can make a huge difference.

Listening is something that we can all do better, I write from personal experience here. Yet it is also something which all of us can succeed in being better at. So let's work harder at active listening - for our children and ourselves.

Posted at 09:48 on 30 Sep 2016