By Lexie Albright
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.
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I did this activity while I was at my field placement in a 5th grade classroom. When I really focused in on the noises going on around me, I realized just how many sounds truly make a moment.
I heard two boys in the corner talking about their Harry Potter books they were reading, a girl reading a “fun facts” book under her breath as she read quietly at her desk, the sound of the heater kicking on and continuing to hum as it heated up the classroom. I heard my mentor teacher’s footsteps as she walked past me and kneel down next to a student to do a quick conference about reading scores. I heard a door shut in the hallway and a cap unscrew from a student’s water bottle. Lastly, I picked up the typing of keys as the students flipped their digital books from page to page.
When I imagine all of these sounds in a single bucket, I hear an effective classroom of learners who are all part of a community. The community is made up of so many sounds – some of which can only be identified if you listen very closely.
During this experience, I found myself slowing down from the fast-pace speed of the classroom. I was able to immerse myself in what was going on around me. It made me aware of more student conversations, and I was able to learn even more about my students.
For example, I now know that one girl in my class likes to read under her breath in order to better comprehend the text she is reading. I realized how effective my mentor’s 90-second conferences are with her students as she went around and relayed students’ scores and progress to them individually.
Teaching is so much about listening in order to move forward. We must hear our children in conversations they share with us but also observe them from afar to uncover how they may discuss things with their peers.
It also makes us aware of everything that goes into a classroom community from the friendships to every little sound. Relating this back to eliciting and interpreting students’ thinking, teachers can absolutely elicit and interpret student thinking through a listening exercise such as this. Students may say in a small group discussion what they didn’t think to say aloud to the whole class. The teacher can later address this as a class without calling any particular student out and elaborate on this new way of thinking. Students can add in their ideas to further deepen their understanding and establish and even stronger level of competency.