Thursday, 15 July 2010

Active listening

We tend to get quite poor results if we say "Behave!" to our little ones. It means very little, whereas if we describe the behaviour we want. they are more likely to understand what we require of them and then we might have some chance of them doing what we've asked. For example, if we want them to be quiet, sit still and not run around in the GP waiting room it better to tell them that than ask them to 'Behave!' Many parents and lots of teachers know this and act accordingly. However, we often and repeatedly say "Listen!" But what does that mean to a 3 year old?
Listening is not a passive skill, it's an active one and therefore one that needs to be learned. Just like behaviour we need to break it down and describe what we want from them.
Active listening is actually:
  • good sitting
  • good looking
  • good waiting
  • good thinking
You wouldn't expect good thinking until school age and it's very hard to do good waiting as a 3 or 4 year old (its hard enough for this 47 year old to wait if she's got something to say!) Which is why they find it hard to wait for their turn or to let others answer a question to which they know the answer.

Our Small Talker groups (for 3 and 4 year olds) work on active listening. We use a puppet to demonstrate 'not good' sitting so that he actually mirrors some of their behaviours e.g. picking the carpet to picking their noses. They are asked to help the puppet 'because he's not naughty, he's just got to learn'. They have to look for the 'un-required' behaviour and say 'stop, do good sitting'. They are usually excellent at identifying the behaviour in the puppet although they may still be doing the same themselves for a while. Afterwards. I put the puppet where he can 'watch' them do good sitting so he can learn by example. I then monitor the behaviour in a  very positive way so that I praise good sitting (and the wriggly ones usually sit up in  an aim to please) or if that doesn't work I ask the wriggly ones to help the puppet by showing him 'good sitting'. If they are constantly nagged to sit still or to listen, they will switch off. It's amazing how well they respond to this approach. I have had a few run-ins with TAs and parents who have been completely peed off with  my approach because they are itching to dictate 'Will you sit still, now!' However, I've asked them to trust me and watch what happens even if I am irritating them....  we've had some great results!

Maggie Johnson has done a great deal of work with listening skills especially with children with ADHD. I can wholeheartedly recommend her book: 
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  1. That's the biggest problem faced by teachers today:kids cant listen!

  2. I remember becoming very frustrated with my eldest when she was about 3 or 4 and shouting "Be-have!!" Her reply? An indignant "I am being have!" ('have' pronounced as it is in 'behave' of course) It made me laugh at the time and I never said it to her again, without also telling her the behaviour I wanted to see.