Auditory Learning: 5 Steps of Hearing vs. Listening in the Classroom
This article provides helpful information for auditory learning in the classroom. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
As an English teacher, I have been through state mandated testing for a few years now. Each year when my student’s tests scores come back, the section they usually perform the lowest in is listening skills. I tried everything that I was taught in school to improve this score. I played them podcast after podcast with comprehension questions to practice. We talked about listening strategies. Yet, nothing worked. After observing a group of students in a casual after school setting, I realized that my students were not truly listening to each other. One would tell a story and the next would talk about a story she experienced on the same topic, but they weren’t playing off of each other at all. My co-worker also noticed this, so we decided to teach them basic social skills as an experiment.
For a few months, we taught them basic lessons like, “when you are listening to someone, you shouldn’t be thinking about what you are going to say next” and, “it’s okay to not share something about yourself.” We practiced this casually for six months. At the end of the year, those students’ listening scores improved much more than their peers. Now, association is not always causation, but it did make me curious about kids and if they are being taught the social skills that they are losing while being on their phones or computers. One of those social skills, simply listening.
Hearing vs. Listening
Everyone experiences hearing vs. listening. When you are in an elevator, restaurant or doctor’s office and there is music playing in the background, you are not totally distracted by this extra noise. Your brain just tunes it out and doesn’t pay attention to sounds that are not important. You are hearing things constantly, but only really listening a very small amount of time. “Hearing, in short, is easy. It’s your life line, your alarm system, your way to escape danger and pass on your genes. But listening, really listening, is hard when potential distractions are leaping into your ears every fifty-thousandth of a second — and pathways in your brain are just waiting to interrupt your focus to warn you of any potential dangers. Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.” (New York Times)
The Listening Process
Listening isn’t just paying attention, it’s much more than that. “‘You never listen’ is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention” (New York Times). There are steps in order to listen effectively so that we aren’t “listening disabled.” Practicing these steps will make you a better listener, learner, and communicator.
Step One: Receiving
Imagine someone sends you an email. No matter the content of the email, if you don’t turn on your computer, you will not receive it. “The message remains somewhere between the sender’s computer and receiver’s” (The Process of Listening). This can be translated to human interaction. Sometimes it can be because of hearing loss, but sometimes it can be because someone purposefully isn’t turning on their computer, or their brain, to actually hear the words and the message that the speaker is sending. “Hearing is the reception of sound; listening is the attachment of meaning” (The Process of Listening).
Step Two: Understanding
One of the harder parts of listening is understanding because it can mean different things for different people. The brain is working hard to attach meaning to what it is receiving, but what if life experiences and emotions get in the way? “Even when we have understood the words in a message, because of the differences in our backgrounds and experience, we sometimes make the mistake of attaching our own meanings to the words of others” (Stages of Listening). This is where clarification could be sought out.
Step Three: Remembering
This step is built on the previous two steps. If you have received or understood a message incorrectly, you will remember it incorrectly. This is a big problem in the classroom, especially with ADD/ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) students or students with any other disability that causes them to not pay as close attention. If they miss hearing one thing, that could be crucial to their understanding and when they go to remember this information, it won’t make sense and will cause frustration later on when they are asked to recall.
Step Four: Evaluating
Evaluating is something we do even if we didn’t hear the correct message. We decide what type of value the message has. A teenager will not place as much value on, “Clean your room,” as they will, “Let’s go buy a new video game.” Their brain assigns this value often without them being conscious of the process. This is why it is important to be an active part of listening, so you can realize your brain is putting certain messages on the backburner.
Step Five: Responding
Responding is the last stage of the listening process. Here, you indicate your involvement. This can be physical or verbal feedback, and this is the type of feedback that teachers thrive on. If a student is staring at the clock, teachers can assume that they are not listening. If a student is nodding and taking notes, that is a sign they are listening.
If you are in a conversation where someone isn’t making eye contact, seems distracted or is on their phone, you can assume they are not involved in what you are saying.
Listening and Learning
Listening is a conscious effort, even moreso now than ever before. We all need to be truly listening in order to learn so that our brain can fully concentrate on the messages we are receiving and store them correctly. If students are not actively engaged in the listening process, they are most certainly missing something that you are saying, which might explain why you feel you are repeating yourself frequently when asking them to do chores, they are choosing not to be engaged in the listening process. This is also is a sign that they could have an Auditory Processing issue. If your child or student is constantly missing information they are given, they could have a breakdown with their auditory learning or a disconnection in the brain that won’t allow them to receive the message they are given through verbal instructions. As much as they may want to learn and process the directions they are given, sometimes they have no control over gaps that develop in their auditory learning.
In addition, there can be a lot more at stake in the classroom. There are usually too many students in the classroom and not enough time for the teacher to repeat the whole lesson to each student who wasn’t listening. It is important to practice listening skills at home so that kids can be practicing the listening process so much that it becomes routine. It will also strengthen their auditory system and help them develop the skills they need to filter out distractions.
To improve your child’s listening skills as well as their auditory system, try some of the following activities:
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