Improving a Student’s Listening Skills
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Good listening ability is an essential learning tool. Indeed, most of what children learn in elementary school is acquired through the auditory channel. Some students, however, have a problem in their ability to listen. They may have what is called an auditory processing problem, namely, a difficulty in understanding spoken language.
A student who has problems processing auditory information typically hears normally. He hears the sounds accurately but his brain may have difficulty making sense of what his ear is telling it. Just as a child with a reading disability typically has good visual acuity but a problem interpreting visual symbols, a child with poor listening skills usually has good hearing but difficulty interpreting auditory information.
Teachers can promote good listening skills by varying the way they communicate and making subtle changes in the classroom setting. Simply telling the student with poor listening skills to “listen” or “pay attention” is usually not sufficient. The following strategies may help you deal more effectively with a student with poor listening skills but also help foster understanding with your entire class.
What You Can Do:
- Investigate possible reasons for his listening difficulty. His processing problem may signal the presence of another problem. For example, the child may have an ear infection, a hearing problem or an attention deficit. Also consider whether he may be bored, distressed or oppositional. If you suspect the possibility of a hearing problem, ask the nurse to screen his hearing. Bear in mind that this screening is a limited and superficial diagnostic tool so he will require testing by an audiologist to definitively rule out a hearing problem. You may also want to request an evaluation from your school’s speech-language specialist to further pinpoint his difficulties.
- Seat the student so as to optimize understanding. Place him near where you typically stand and away from the hallway door or window. In this way, he will be better able to understand your instructions and less vulnerable to distraction. Avoid standing in front of the window on a sunny day while talking to your class because it will be harder for students to see your face clearly.
- Gain the student’s attention before speaking with him. This is particularly important when giving assignments or directions or introducing new ideas. Consider alerting the student that you are about to begin speaking by gently tapping him on the shoulder or calling his name. Face him and make sure he has eye contact with you. Varying your tone and volume may help to maintain his attention.
- Monitor his understanding. You might do this by having him repeat back your directions or asking him questions to assess his grasp of what you have said. Make sure that he really understands and is not just parroting back what he has heard. If he has not understood, restate your instructions but simplify the vocabulary, syntax and grammar. Consider asking another student to regularly monitor his understanding of directions and assignments.
- Encourage the student to tell you when he is confused. He may be reluctant to ask you for clarification for fear of your reaction. Let him know that you expect him to tell you when he is unclear about directions or assignments. At the same time, you want to make sure he does not take advantage of this by not paying attention when he first hears your instructions.
- Provide a longer “wait time” with the student. The student with an auditory processing problem may take somewhat longer to understand orally presented information. If so, wait a little longer for a response than normal after asking the student a question.
- Prepare the student when changing topics. When moving from one subject to another, make it clear that you are changing topics by saying, for example, “That ends our discussion of (name of topic). Now let’s move on to talk about (name of new topic).” In discussing the new topic, begin by summarizing the main points. When finished with your lesson, review the main ideas and perhaps previously learned material. This will be helpful for all students.
- Enhance the student’s understanding. Try these strategies to help him understand and remember what you have said:
- Speak in short sentences and talk relatively slowly.
- Repeat what you have said or have him repeat it to you. If necessary, rephrase what you said rather than repeating them word for word.
- Have him write down the information.
- When posing questions in class, give him three or four possible answers to choose from or ask questions with a number of correct answers.
- Supplement orally presented information with written information.
- Reinforce what you are saying with gestures.