Knowing how to listen is useful in any environment but it is perhaps most important in the classroom, where students of all ages and backgrounds overcome daily challenges to learn. Stanford University provides a helpful chart that breaks listening into categories, offering insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Effective listening begins with Non-Verbal Communication. Body language underpins social interactions more than we realize, and we notice when people avoid eye contact or appear distracted.

Subtle non-verbal cues indicate whether someone is invested in what we’re saying, and if we’re not showing our interest through body language, the conversation may never get going. Make eye contact and maintain a positive posture so the student sees that you’re listening.

The next layer involves the way we speak. We’re often tempted to respond to someone’s story by telling one of our own, but that risks making things about us and not them. Keep the Focus of Attention on the speaker so you can get the whole story first.

Also withhold judgement and correction, and show the speaker that you not only understand what she’s saying but also how she feels. By demonstrating Acceptance and Empathy, you can help the speaker feel comfortable sharing.

Once we’ve established we’re on the student’s side, we can be more active by Probing and Paraphrasing as well as Summarizing. Helping the speaker delve deeper and affirming the accuracy and progress of the discussion will allow him to consider things he may not have thought of alone. Rather than repeating statements, prompt him to clarify and compare new statements to earlier ones. The conversation will be more meaningful as a result.

Only now can we offer Advice. There is rarely one solution to any problem, so we shouldn’t narrow the options or force a solution. If we broaden the possibilities, the speaker will be more apt to do what’s best for him or herself.

By keeping in mind these characteristics of effective listening, teachers can help the classroom become a more welcoming place for students to explore ideas and share their thoughts.




Image credit: “SAD Hortons kids 114” by US Department of Education (CC BY 2.0).