Are you listening?

The hairdresser asks questions about what I’d like and is attentive and responsive. I show him a photo of the way my hair used to be cut and tell him I don’t like the sides cut too short, but other than that am willing to try something new. We chat about his new salon and he tells me he how important he feels it is to listen to his clients and meet their needs. I share a story with him about a hairdresser I once went to, who did the opposite of what I had asked and then said ‘Sorry, I guess I wasn’t listening’. He is suitably unimpressed.

He cuts the sides short anyway.

While I wait for my hair to grow, I reflect on his apparent disregard for my input and I think I can identify the problem. The hairdresser is listening, but he has something in mind, while he is listening.  And alas, it appears to be something different from what I have in mind!

As always, I relate the experience back to the classroom…

Do we really listen to what our students say?

Or are  we subconsciously waiting for a response or idea that we have in mind, as they speak?

Are we so busy ensuring that we ‘cover’ the curriculum, we forget to listen carefully to the learning?

Or are we deeply interested in the students’ thinking and where it might take future teaching and learning?

Do we paraphrase what students say, adding our own interpretation?

Or do we listen attentively so as to ‘catch’ students’ meaning and throw back a question that pushes them to elaborate?

And even when we think we listen, do we really?


18 thoughts on “Are you listening?

  1. I always love the way you think so deeply about education and draw your experiences back to learning.

    Last week my nephew wrote an essay and was given the criteria sheet after he handed the essay in. ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ is exactly what his teacher was doing there.


  2. I certainly try to be cognizant of the questions that you raised in your post. I have also found that my response/praise/acknowledgement of a students’ answer will shape future responses from all students in the class. When I was younger and less self-assure, I thought this was a good thing. Now, I realize that I am simply conditioning students to answer questions using my unwritten expectations for a “good” answer. Instead, I try to listen carefully and let students shape what they are thinking without impacting it. They don’t always like it (some kids want to give the “right” answer), but I can see them digging deeper in their thinking.

    Thanks for sharing these questions.


  3. We are all guilty of all of the above but I guess the key is to be aware of it. I use the same phrase all day in my classes. ” Could you explain that a bit more”. The student digs deeper or re-phrases and I have acknowledged her/his answer without a yes or no.


    1. Are you familiar with the Project Zero Visible Thinking routines? One of them is ‘What makes you say that?’ … which is much like what you are describing. It’s a great way to provoke deep thinking and the ability to support statements.


  4. Very good points Edna. I think we need to ask ourselves what the purpose of the question was and whether we have built in the flexibility in our lesson / plan / goal / curriculum for it to matter. I’m planning my first WSL course and as I’m looking how I will ‘fill’ the two days I’m asking myself how those goals set at the start, the questions that were asked, those ‘listening’ moments, will be able to guide my workshop and how I will adapt and cater for them.


  5. Thank you! I am a first grade teacher. I constantly feel rushed and under pressure to collect data, cover content and meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Your post is a great reminder that we owe it to our students to listen to them effectively, just as we expect the same from them.


    1. I like what Grant Wiggins said about that in this post “What always intrigues me is the comment: “There is so much content to cover, I have to cover it all.” Huh? You have to teach superficially to improve learning? ” Clearly taking more time will lead to deeper learning!


  6. Have you read Ellin Oliver Keene’s Talking About Understanding? I heard her at the IRA convention in Chicago this year, and then read the book – she really showed me what I do – I finish students’ sentences for them, because, supposedly, I KNOW WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO SAY! How horrible! I don’t always let them even finish their sentences! I don’t always let them even say what they want to say! Do I give them time to think, or am I doing the thinking for them? And when I do let them answer, do I just give praise and move on to someone else, or do I let them say more?

    Great book. Great blog post here – Thank you!


  7. Love this, Edna. Listening is so important. It is perhaps my favourite Teachmeet presentation where I distilled what to say down to 2 minutes with an invitation to read more about it. Here’s my post entitled Listening diet:EAT which outlines very briefly what I think are key to listening.

    And you know what, I ended my 2 minute pecha-kucha with ‘Are you listening?’ – exactly those words! 🙂


  8. Spot on Edna … listening moments when the teacher hears where each child /student is at offer recognition to each student of their worth and contribution to the learning taking place in the collaboration that should exist in the community that is the classroom.


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