This short essay aims to discuss the process of teaching listening skills to children. The main focus is to describe problems that may arise and then to suggest some possible solutions for each in terms of the learning process in general. Listening as a skill set is one of the more critical skills needed by young learners. To show how difficult attaining listening is, consider this from a non-native speaker. "A common complaint from learners on first visiting an English-speaking country is that their listening skills cannot cope with fast spontaneous speech." (Cauldwell) It is believed that of the group of four skills humans use most often, listening should be considered to be by far one of the most frequently used. Consider how in the United States speaking and listening are usually taught in tandem, but from the teaching perspective, speaking over time gets far more direct attention in terms of practice and specific drills than does listening. Teachers have many tools available to them to teach listening skills. For example, teachers can make learners respond to commands such as 'please close the window' or to choose an object, circle a correct letter or a word on a worksheet. The key to teaching listening is that it is far more difficult to repeat what was heard or to translate what was heard into another language. The teacher must have a firm grasp of what is and what is not a reasonable task for teaching listening skills. In some cases it is a good idea for students to continue a story or to solve a problem and in another case neither method is an appropriate fit. The teacher must have his or her finger on the pulse of the learning experience.
Teachers can guide their students to become better listeners. There is a plethora of research on listening skills and all of that data seems to point to one outcome -- in order to be a good listener, students must be able to focus their attention on the important messages while also being able to review critical information. Teachers therefore can model a form of good listening behaviors and can also provide new insights and rewards for students by advising them on specific ways to listen and showing them how to become active listeners. One skill that new students in the early academic years like kindergarten or first grade can be taught is to pick out main ideas of conversations and also to be expected to take that information and ask relevant questions about the conversation. If taught early on, students who acquire these skills are often more likely to be considered good listeners because they have unknowingly been taught to become active listeners. These children may find themselves interested and attentive throughout the later schools years and through High School because they are able to consistently focus and also to mentally remove external distractions. So it is quite apparent, the earlier these skills are taught, the more effective they become over time. This is not to say that it is ever too late to teach students viable listening skills. It is never too late, but the rule of the earlier the better may apply.
One area where teachers have a greater responsibility to teaching listening skills than they may comprehend is in their own listening skills that the students observe in the one adult that is present in a classroom on a daily basis. "According to the authors, counselors and teachers who are persistent in developing their own listening skills will experience great rewards in connecting ELL." (Seo) Teachers who wish to teach listening skills are actually encouraged to allow their students to do some talking throughout a day so that the students have an opportunity to see how a good listener, hopefully the teacher, actually applies the skill set to their own listening. It comes to many parents or non-teachers surprise that some children need an invitation to talk. So when providing a listening practice that the kids may or may not be privy to, the teacher should begin the process with a simple coax such as 'how do you like school' or 'tell me about your day at the park.' When the children or a specific child begins to share his or her ideas or feelings, it is critical at that point that they appreciate that their teacher sees their ideas as important. The teacher at this juncture should be listening patiently. Human beings often think faster than they speak and children also have a limited verbal vocabulary as well as fewer life experiences. In other words, it may take a child or children more time to discover the perfect words and how the teacher handles these delays moulds children's minds for future conversations and opportunities to be good listeners. The teacher should appear to the student that he or she has plenty of time. By hearing children out and not cutting the child off before they have an opportunity to finish speaking, the teacher is sending a message. This is a very difficult lesson as a whole even though it appears quite simple. The teacher must not form an opinion too early and thus reject a child's view because the impact on the child may be long lasting in regard to their view of active listening and gathering pertinent observations from listening.
Feedback from teachers as mentioned is a critical part of the learning process when it comes to listening. But there are also direct feedback assignments that can be given to students learning new listening skills. Feedback is a major part of the motor learning process. Feedback can be considered to be a process where humans regulate themselves by monitoring their own output or where they can be conditioned by others monitoring their progress. In other words, a human feeds back a portion of output data to itself or a teacher can feed back some information to a student. A viable example of a feedback process can be an automatic pilot system that is used in most, if not all, airplanes. The automatic pilot process is a function of an airplane that provides the plane's computer system that technically flies the plane through constant feedback about all required information such as a plane's air speed, altitude, direction and so on. Each time the airplane moves ever so slightly off course, the computer receives that data and then makes minor directional adjustments via the plane's steering process which in turn makes sure that the plane is heading in the most efficient direction to its programmed final destination. Feedback processes are used to control other machines such as heaters, air conditioners, microwave ovens and more. And, just like these machines, for a student learning new listening skills, feedback can be used by his or her brain to control the various muscles and joints, blood flow, oxygen intake and functions that control all other voluntary and involuntary bodily movements in order to allow a student to be a more efficient active learner and listener. Externally, the student also is using millions of bits of data feedback from peers, teachers, parents and other individuals in order to produce natural instincts to respond and therefore produce good listening habits. The students movements are modulated, controlled, and altered through the process of feedback. A good feedback exercise can be as simple as giving a student a specific listening task to do between classes such as listening to some public announcement and trying to write down what they heard or if no announcement is available provide a tape recording with questions, dictation, and a simple listening worksheet to complete with the intent of providing feedback on the results.
Teachers must consciously develop a desire in their students' to want to develop good listening skills and this takes time and practice. The most difficult of the associated tasks is that teachers have to have students focus on the speaker. The more a teacher emphasis that eye contact is essential, the better the message may get across. But there are many underlying problems such as each child's self-esteem, upbringing and parental ties and so on. But if at all possible, it is important to teach the kids to not let their eyes wander around a room or to settle on items past a speaker's shoulder. This exercise also goes a long way in teaching kids to stay focused and not letting their mind's wander. The next important step for sound listening skills is actually allowing a speaker to completely finish their thought before the student responds. This can again be difficult lesson for young overactive minds. But getting the message across that interrupting is not only rude, it gives the impression that the student was never listening even if they were. Next comes teaching students to actively listen for main ideas or key points of a conversation. Students far too often miss the underlying purpose of…