Listening is one of the receptive skills. When we are listening to language, we need to decode what we hear in order to understand it. One of the advantages for reading is that we have the written word to decipher. It is concrete; it doesn’t disappear. It is on the page or screen. In contrast, the spoken word is ephemeral; it is here and then it is gone.
Fortunately, much conversation is cyclical and not linear. By that I mean, we rarely read from a script. Most spoken conversation backtracks, repeats itself using different words; goes two steps forward and one step back. However, one of the problems with recorded material from course books is that this redundancy is often edited out. A script is often linear.
On the other hand, one of the advantages of recorded material is that we can play it again and again; something we can’t do when we are doing ‘live listening’. But if we are to do this successfully, I think it is important that we have a clear procedure in place. If children are supported by our procedure, they will be successful and if they are successful they will improve.
The long-term aim of listening practice in the classroom is that children become more confident when listening. They will become more confident if they see that they are completing tasks successfully.
Let’s look at a basic framework for listening skills work that provides a step-by-step procedure for teachers and the opportunity for children to gain confidence through successful task completion.
“Task before text” is a dictum for all skills work. Children need a reason to listen. And they need something to listen for. Can you see why it makes sense to set the task before the children listen?
The following is a basic listening procedure:
Set the task.
Play the listening.
Get the children to compare their answers.
Ask them if they need to listen again.
If they want to listen a second time, play it again.
If they don’t want to listen again, check their answers.
If there is a second task, follow the same basic procedure as outlined above.
As the teacher, you can probably tell if the children need to listen to it again, or not. I still think that asking the question, “do you want to listen again?” is a useful and valid thing to do. It gives children some control over what is happening and gives them some responsibility for how the lesson is progressing.
Some teachers may feel that getting children to compare their answers is in some way cheating. In actual fact it is a confidence builder. If they have the same answers they will say, “no” when you ask if they want to listen again. If they have different answers, they will want to listen again and they will listen carefully at the point where they disagree.
Perhaps the most important thing that we need to do at the beginning is to build their confidence. To help them feel that they can do it. A good way to do that is by applying a methodical, staged procedure.
Remember that we are teaching them how to listen successfully, not testing it.