Small child sitting at white table with painting in front on the table

Listening to Understand

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By Rachel Madonna

To explore the act of listening, teacher candidates in Dr. Dawn Woods’ Winter 2021 sections of Teaching Mathematics at the Elementary and Middle Level were asked to “Listen for the Gold” based on a reading from the book Listen Like a Storyteller: A Guidebook on Attention and Finding the Truth in the Narrative Age (McCann, 2019). Teacher candidates found a few moments when working with their students to close their eyes to focus on hearing, enjoying, and to listen for the gold. Here is one of the narratives about what they heard as they listened and how it connected to their work as teachers.

Click on the category “Listening” for more stories on this topic.

I chose to do the listening portion of this exercise while I was in my pre-k classroom last week. I took a few minutes to sit down and focus only on what I heard. It was an interesting experience to hear sounds that I typically pay no attention to, yet they suddenly became very prevalent once I focused only on listening.

It was early in the morning, so there were only about six children present at this time. I heard one of the children telling his friend about a tiger he saw at the zoo “super long ago.” I heard the tiny footsteps of plastic animals walking down the table as two children played together. One girl was singing a song to herself so silently that I could not understand the words. Another boy prodded another child to play with him; he asked four times in a row. One of the assistant teachers was in the hallway escorting a toddler to their classroom, encouraging them to not “bump into any walls or doors.” There was the click of a card key unlocking the door to the office hallway. The refrigerator hummed quietly, and there was the faint sound of cars passing on the road outside the school building.

This activity pushed me to focus on each sound as if it were its own individual. The child’s quiet singing stood out to me and I made a connection with how she is always eager for music activities and sing-a-longs. I often hear her sing throughout the day, but this experience helped me realize that perhaps music is one of her main interests at school. The child who was constantly asking for someone to play with him stood out to me as well. He is often seeking a new play partner and becomes upset when he is left to play alone. Hearing the child repeatedly ask for someone to join him really highlighted his desire to play collaboratively.

These are things I hear each day when I teach in my classroom. However, they do not stand out as keys or insight into the students’ interests, dislikes, concerns, or strengths. This activity pushed me to recognize how much I can learn from and about the children I teach if I just listen. It is easy to block out sounds in my preschool classroom, especially during free play times when it can be hard to distinguish between all of the conversations taking place. However, I learned that those free play and socializing times can offer so much information about each child. This relates to eliciting and interpreting student thinking. When speaking one on one or in a group discussion, it is important to focus on listening to what students say and to learn more about why they may have chosen to say something. As a teacher, a great way to support students is listening to understand, rather than listening to respond. Eliciting students’ ideas is a wonderful way to learn more about their ideas and thought processes, and it pushes students to develop a meaningful response. In order to make eliciting students’ thinking beneficial, teachers must first be prepared to listen and give students their full attention.

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