Saturday, 12 November 2011

Learning to listen

We take the development of communication for granted but it is actually the best achievement of our lifetime. There, is however,  a very alarming national decline in speech, language and communication skills which means that at least 40,000 children started school in 2009 without adequate spoken language ability (Wright, J., 2009) and a Government report in 2008 showed that this can be as high as 50% of children in some areas (Bercow, J.). The Government’s Communication Tsar Jean Gross, reported that ‘at least’ 1 in every 6 three year olds has a recognised difficulty while many, many more were undetected. Today’s demands of the reception class teacher are tremendous yet the children are starting school without the necessary pre-requisite skills. Spoken language skills are the building blocks for written language and almost every educational task pre-supposes a certain level of ability.
I carried out a study recently involving 100 schools across the country, which showed 100 % Primary Head Teachers were extremely concerned about declining speech, language and communication skills. The main problem they believed was a lack of listening skills.
We live in a very visual, fast- paced age and often the first time a child is required to do any formal listening is when they start school. Many, many children have to be taught to attend and listen before they can begin the demands of the national curriculum. I started my Small Talker groups to try to address this issue.  We work on ‘active listening’.
A lot of parents and staff will 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. 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. We need to treat listening the same way.
Active listening can be broken down in to:
•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 (it’s hard enough for me to wait if I've 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 the first 3 components of 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-desired’ 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 TA’s 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! or

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1 comment:

  1. I love teaching children about active listening. It is a skill that has to be learnt. Children are impatient and often get involved in other things when we are trying to talk to them. I think activie listening takes ages for a child to grasp hold off.