Listening In

Monday, 27 July 2015

     Summer learning included a week long stay in Ontario, Canada where I attended the Transform Ed Workshop Series, given by Joanne Babalis.  There she shared her Masters' research on the seven layers of Inquiry-Based learning. The fifth layer, and the focus of this post, is listening. Other blog posts discuss the other layers that include image of the childtimespacematerials,  documenting and planning.

     A few years ago, I stumbled across a series of videos on full-day kindergarten in Ontario, Canada (  There were a lot of things to notice in the videos, but what stood out most was how these five-year olds talked and were able to share their thinking with their teacher and classmates.  I was amazed, but also a little embarrassed, because I knew my students didn’t talk like that. I continued watching the videos with a new focus, trying to figure out what it was the teacher was doing that led to that level of communication. I wondered how she began in September and if there was a list of prompts that she used.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized it probably had less to do with how the teacher spoke and more about how she listened.
     In the above mentioned workshop, I got the opportunity to observe a teacher/student exchange firsthand. Joanne interviewed her former student about her kindergarten portfolio. What I observed during their exchange was the noticeable pause that followed the child’s response to Joanne’s questions. Joanne didn’t rush in with a return comment or quickly ask the next question. Instead, she provided "wait time," possibly to ensure that the child was done speaking or to give the audience time to process the child's response.  In either case, her approach seemed to elevate the student’s words.  I’m not sure if this was intentional on Joanne’s part, as the focus of this session was on portfolios, but the mutual respect that I witnessed gave me insight into how I might better listen to my students.

     Up to this point, any thought I’d given to “listening,” has been limited to teaching the children how to listen (i.e. whole body listening, listening position). It never occurred to me to consider my own listening habits. I now see how listening, as a layer of the inquiry model, is about so much more.  It’s about seeking to understand one another and is a key element in creating a classroom where children’s thoughts and ideas are valued, expressed, and heard.  It's also an often forgotten means of gathering information about a child in an effort to document learning.
     Listening is one area that is just going to take a lot of conscious effort on my part.  I'll be practicing this summer with those around me. I also think it means restructuring lessons so the children are given more opportunities to talk. It's not my own voice I want to be listening to and documenting!   
     What are some ways that you can better listen to your students? 

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