by Mike McHugh
Home educators often experience the same difficulties as traditional school teachers in getting children to pay attention during times of instruction. Anyone, in fact, who has ever taught for any length of time will inevitably face students who seem lost in a fog and difficult to reach. Experienced teachers clearly understand what it is like to come face-to-face with students who are sporting a blank stare and glazed eyes. They also realize all too quickly how much of their hard work in lesson preparation can go down the drain when students are not prepared to listen to what is being presented. Perhaps it is time for more teachers, both within and without the field of home education, to spend more time each school term equipping their students with a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to be a good listener.
For starters, teachers would do well to impress upon their students just how impossible it is to be a good student without being consistently alert and attentive. Listening is, after all, an active and not a passive exercise. Students can be led to the lecture well, but they must ultimately drink for themselves or all is futility; for without listening, there is no true communication. Too often, students who take the time to "hear" a lesson taught fail to understand that hearing a teacher talk and actually listening to him are two distinct acts. True listening requires a focused commitment on behalf of the student to temporarily suspend all unrelated thoughts, and to ignore all potential distractions. In other words, listening involves more than the simple act of hearing.
According to experts from the University of Minnesota at Duluth, listening skills can be improved through the following means:
- Maintain eye contact with the instructor. Although it is still a good idea to keep good notes during a lecture, regular eye contact also keeps you focused and involved during the process of instruction.
- Focus on content, not delivery. Have you ever counted the number of times a teacher clears his/her throat in a fifteen minute period? If so, you weren’t focused on content.
- Avoid emotional involvement. When you are too emotionally involved in listening, you tend to hear what you want to hear---not what is actually being said. Try to remain objective and open-minded.
- Avoid distractions. Don’t let your mind wander or be distracted by background noise. Stay alert by asking yourself mental questions about the key points being asserted by the speaker.
- Keep notes that accurately summarize the main points of the lecture. Note taking can help you to stay active and engaged in the business of listening. Among other questions, ask yourself how the lecture content fits into the wider subject you are studying.
- Make use of the time between the rate of speech and your rate of thought. You can think faster than the lecturer can talk. This is one reason why your mind may tend to wander. Try, therefore, to anticipate what the speaker is going to say as a means of staying engaged and focused. Work your mind to the point where it can listen, think, write, and ponder at nearly the same time. This will require practice and discipline, but it can be done.
To this list may be added the vital suggestion for students to get enough sleep or rest prior to lecture time. Fatigue and stress can make it difficult to listen well, even if you are old enough to imbibe in a caffeinated beverage before class. Other barriers to listening include worry, fear, anger, depression, boredom, and a mind that is pre-occupied with extraneous issues.
Few people need to be lectured on the difficulties associated with speaking or teaching. When it comes to the challenge of becoming a skilled listener, however, a great many students and teachers have a lot to learn. For too long, home educators have been reluctant to tackle the task of improving their children’s listening skills. It is my hope that this short article will be used as a means of helping students to become better learners by becoming better listeners.
Copyright 2006 Michael J. McHugh
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