Tony Gurr

The LISTENing Educator…

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities on 21/12/2012 at 2:38 am
by Laurence Raw
Listening (doggy ears)
It’s amazing what can be learned from isolated conversations.
I was talking to three separate sets of LEARNers this week in different departments, as well as from different educational levels (under- and postgraduate, as well as trainee educators).  All of them had plenty of work to complete for their courses – assignments, lesson-plans, assessments and the like.
Yet many of them admitted to finding such tasks extremely difficult, chiefly because they did not quite understand what was expected of them by their “educational peers”.  Did they have to produce ‘scholarly’ pieces, using examples taken from secondary texts; or were they expected to give their own opinions on the material?  What kind of criteria did educators use to distinguish a ‘good’ from a ‘bad’ submission, and how could LEARNers work towards meeting them?  And what kind of feedback could learners expect, apart from being given a grade?
The question of assessment is a complex one; too complex, in fact, for a short blog-post.
However I got the distinct impression that no one was actually listening to one another.  That term “to listen” is a complex one: it doesn’t just involve decoding words and sentences, but rather participating in a process described thus by Richard Sennett in a recent book: “though we may use the same words, we cannot say we are speaking of the same things; the aim is to come eventually towards a common understanding.”
It is that “common understanding” that is conspicuously absent from many classrooms.
The CLASSROOM - weapons of mass instruction
How can we improve the listening environment?  The public speaking consultant Lisa B. Marshall offers three effective solutions: 
1.       Tune In.  Make sure you give listeners your undivided attention.  Turn off your “mind chatter” and look at how they react to what you say.  If you feel they haven’t understood a point you have said, then try and clarify it.  Or better still, find another means to explain it – for example, by writing it down.
2.       Show You are Listening.  This is something many educators find difficult, especially if they are accustomed to monopolizing the learning environment.  The key is to concentrate on the words you hear and – perhaps more importantly – understand the body language signals you see.  Are learners smiling?  Are they talking amongst themselves? Are the words and body language congruent?
3.       Understand What You’ve Just Heard and/or Seen.  Educators need to translate and interpret their learners’ reactions.  They have to decide what they mean.  We all create meaning based on our own experiences, but sometimes that’s not enough.  We need to ask open-ended questions to confirm our understanding, and try to eliminate possible miscommunications.
21 TOBB Seminar (05 July 2012)
Such steps might seem rather obvious (aren’t all educators supposed to listen to their learners?) but it seems that their significance is frequently overlooked. However difficult it might be, we need to pay less attention to content, and concentrate instead on how we can communicate better.
Guy Claxton believes that this is the key to acquiring “learning power” for educators and learners alike.  By listening to others, we can learn how to ask better questions, and thereby learn how to co-operate with one another.  This is essential to learning: in this kind of environment, everyone can ask themselves what they don’t understand and why.  If they can’t understand something, they ask more questions – not only of themselves, but also of other members of the group.
What we’re (really) talking about here is a redefinition of the relationship between educators and their learners. Effective listening means treating learners on equal terms; to ask questions of them, as means to help them develop the confidence to ask questions themselves.
Wouldn’t it be great if more educators could shed some of their pride in their knowledge and/or status and actually initiate this process?
Laurence Raw
Baskent University.
Department of English, Ankara, Turkey.
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey
@laurenceraw (Twitter)
  1. “Wouldn’t it be great if more educators could shed some of their pride in their knowledge and/or status and actually initiate this process?”

    We could.
    We should.
    but many won’t. 😦

    Even for Students such a teacher is often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
    We should not give up though.
    I know that I won’t. 😉

    Even though they find it a bit odd at first, with time though, they realise that I care and THAT IS why I do what I do the way I do. And if any student fail or couldn’t meet the system expectations, they know they have not failed at all because they became a better at learning. And that is what matters.

    Tks for the great reminder. 😀

  2. Great blog.

    I work in early childhood education and this blog reminds me of something I often share with my staff, that the teacher should never be the loudest voice in a classroom, just one of many. As many of us teachers know, teaching is mostly listening and learning is mostly talking.

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