We can all spot the poor listeners when working with a group of children but they often don’t present in the same way. This is because listening isn’t just one skill. It requires lots of different behaviours that children bring together in order to focus/listen successfully. Being explicit about the specific behaviour needed will help children to understand what they need to do, and why it helps them to listen. This is why we devised our four rules.
Looking at the person who is talking
We want children to be good listeners in every learning and social situation. This is a rule for life. Looking at the person who is talking will help children in every situation they find themselves in; in the classroom, at job interviews and when meeting new people and making friends.
Listening to all the words
The important bit of this rule is ‘all’. We all know impulsive children, who listen to your first words and think they know what to do without waiting for you to finish. Learning to listen all the way to the end of your words will help children avoid making simple mistakes and will save you time.
Teaching children the importance of this rule has the biggest impact in any learning environment. Children cannot talk and listen at the same time! Their talking distracts both the other children and the adults working with them. There has been a huge rise in the amount of background noise that children are exposed to in every situation which means that children are not used to quiet and do not necessarily feel uncomfortable if they are talking at the same time as someone else. They have become desensitised to it and may need to be explicitly taught that staying quiet helps everyone to listen.
This is a controversial rule and certainly some children find it easier to sit still than others. However, young children typically have single channelled attention and need to look in order to listen. Anything which distracts their eyes will distract their ears too. Practising sitting still in a motivating and positive way will help them to experience success at it and find it easier in future. Children who can sit still reduce the distractions for others and find it easier to stay focused themselves. However, this is hard for young children so be realistic about how long you are expecting them to sit.
In our experience, most children, especially in Primary, want to please the adults that they work with. However, when you say ‘listen to me’ they do not always understand exactly what behaviour you want to see. Once you have taught children these four rules then you all have a shared expectation of what good listening means and you can give them specific praise when you see them following a listening rule successfully.
Children we have worked with love playing listening games and make rapid progress once they understand the rules. The many fantastic teachers we have worked with have then been really skilled at motivating the children in their classes to show those good listening skills throughout the school day.