Are We Teaching It, and If So, How?
ERIC Identifier: ED295132
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Hyslop, Nancy B. - Tone, Bruce
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading & Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Listening is the first language mode that children acquire. It provides a foundation for all
aspects of language and cognitive development, and it plays a life-long role in the
processes of learning and communication essential to productive participation in life. A
study by Wilt (1950), which found that people listen 45 percent of the time they spend
communicating, is still widely cited (e.g., Martin, 1987; Strother, 1987). Wilt found that
30 percent of communication time was spent speaking, 16 percent reading, and 9
percent writing. That finding confirmed what Rankin had found in 1928, that people
spent 70 percent of their waking time communicating and that three-fourths of this time
was spent listening and speaking.
One might assume, then, that the development of listening skills gets considerable
attention in our schools; but that does not appear to be the case. Burley-Allen (1982)
found the classroom emphasis on language modes to be inversely related to the time
people use them: students get 12 years of formal training in writing, 6-8 years in
reading, 1-2 years in speaking, and from 0-1/2 year in listening. Swanson (1984b) calls
this the "inverted curriculum."
Curriculum guides usually call for more extensive instruction in listening than children
get; for as Swanson (1984a) found, there is a tendency for teachers not to emphasize
the listening objectives. Many studies in the ERIC database suggest that educators
have assumed that listening develops naturally (e.g., Abelleira, 1987).
Another reason that listening is not emphasized may be that not having experienced
much instruction on effective listening themselves, teachers are not certain how best to
teach it. A study by Swanson (1986) suggests that teachers are not apt to get much
training on teaching listening. His survey of 15 textbooks used in teacher education
programs revealed that out of a total of 3,704 pages of text, only 82 pages mentioned
HOW CAN LISTENING BE DEFINED?
No widely accepted model for listening has developed in the past 10-15 years as one
has in reading. The emerging processing model for reading has been intriguing and has
led to close scrutiny of existing reading instructional materials and assessment
instruments and to innovative attempts to develop new ones. For listening, no such
conclusive model has yet emerged to direct extensive development of instructional
The processing models for reading, however, contribute to our understanding of
listening; and more than any other approaches to defining listening, appear to influence
instruction. Pearson and Fielding (1983), among others, link listening skills to reading
skills. They feel that reading and listening make use of similar language comprehension
processes. As does reading, they maintain, listening involves the simultaneous
orchestration of skills in phonology, syntax, semantics, and knowledge of text
structure--all of which seem to be controlled by the same set of cognitive processes.
One aspect of listening which relates to high levels of comprehension may be more
relevant to listening than to reading. Thomlison's (1984) definition of listening includes
"active listening," which goes beyond comprehending literally to an empathetic
understanding of the speaker. Gordon (1985) sees empathy as essential to listening
and contends that it is more than a polite attempt to identify a speaker's
perspectives--that it expands to "nonegocentric prosocial behavior" that altruistically
accepts concern for the speaker's welfare and interests. Gordon admits, however, that a
problem with research on empathy has been a lack of conceptual clarity.
Coakley (1985) tends to define listening skills as the opposites of negative attitudes.
She discusses one common negative listening attitude as self-centeredness--as
opposed to being "other-oriented," with a genuine interest in others that leads to
acknowledging another person's comments by asking open-ended questions.
Disrespect, another negative listening attitude, is shown by sending "superiority" signals
and/or by interrupting.
In a careful attempt to compile a definition of listening as a synthesis of many other
definitions, Hirsch (1986) treats aspects that span neurological responses and
interpretation of sound to understanding and assigning meaning by reacting, selecting
meaning, remembering, attending, analyzing, and incorporating previous experience.
He groups definitions as
Hirsch's own definition presents numerous components that do not suggest any sequential model but leave one free to
focus on particular aspects of listening without attempting to oversimplify the complexity of how they may relate to each other.
- attempts to define the process;
- explanations of sequential phases in listening--how sound is received, comprehended, and acted upon; and
- generalist definitions that examine aspects of listening without sequencing them or relating each to the others as part of a process.
WHAT TEACHING METHODS SHOULD WORK?
A sampling of methodologies for teaching listening described in the ERIC database
illustrates how the developing discussion of listening--particularly as it relates to
reading--is contributing to directions in the classroom.
After reviewing relationships between listening and reading, Choate and Rakes (1987)
offer a structured listening activity not unlike one that would promote reading
comprehension. Four major steps that lead to comprehension of a selection read aloud
by the teacher include
Among the discussion and numerous practical instructional exercises offered by Wolvin
and Coakley (1979) are some that tie listening to particular purposes, such as
appreciating oral literature, giving and getting directions, and interpersonal
- developing the concepts in the text by promoting discussion
that ties the concepts to the students' backgrounds,
- establishing a purpose for listening,
- using visual aids while reading aloud to help the students focus attention
and to reinforce concepts, and
- asking questions that promote both literal and
interpretive or critical responses.
Shoop (1986) proposes a technique that she says is equally successful in building
listening, reading, or a combination of listening and reading comprehension. A narrative
text is selected to be read aloud, silently, or both. The teacher interrupts at several
places to call a spontaneous news conference in which the students play investigative
reporters at the scene of one of the story events. Their questioning promotes
interpretive and critical responses.
Abelleira argues that listening should be taught as a separate mode. The first three of
five components in her approach to introducing listening to first graders are included to
make sure that the pupils understand how the auditory system functions, have some
grasp of the science of sound, and know some rules that relate to successful group
discussion. The last two components are a list of objectives for the instruction: the
students should learn to decode; follow verbal instructions; infer word meanings; listen
for details, sequence, and main idea; distinguish fact from opinion; and identify mood.
These objectives matched closely the instrument that Abelleira used to demonstrate
that the method is effective. Interestingly, they are also very compatible with those on
many standardized reading tests.
Lundsteen (1985) points out that the quality and appeal of what one is asked to listen to
is instrumental in determining how well a listener attends, and she suggests that the
same textual qualities that promote attentive reading comprehension should promote
more skillful listening. In an extensive discussion of how listening should and can be
framed in integrated language instruction, Lundsteen (1979) covers pertinent research
as well as available instructional materials.
Ronald and Roskelly (1985) define listening as an active process requiring the same
skills of prediction, hypothesizing, checking, revising, and generalizing that writing and
reading demand; and they present specific exercises to make students active listeners
to the same "inner voice" one hears when writing.
The tendency of many teaching methodologies and techniques on listening to draw on
theory, objectives, and skills more established in the other language modes seems
reasonable. The interest in empathy may ultimately distinguish a listening model from
those of the other language modes; on the other hand, it is not yet clear why empathy
would not also be relevant to reading. The neglect of listening may, in fact, be most
efficiently remedied by transferring what is practiced in developing reading, writing, and
speaking proficiencies and skills.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education under contract number RI88062001. Contractors undertaking such projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their judgment in professional and technical matters. Points of view or opinions, however, do not necessarily represent the official view or opinions of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.
Abelleira, Patsy G. Listening Instruction: A Program for
First-Grade Students. Nova University, 1987. 78 pp. [ED 287 615]
Burley-Allen, M. Listening: The Forgotten Skill. New York: Wiley, 1982.
Choate, Joyce S., and Rakes, Thomas A. "The structured
listening activity: a model for improving listening comprehension,"
Reading Teacher, 41 (2), November 1987, pp. 194-195.
Coakley, Carolyn Gwynn.
"Listening competencies at the
secondary/post-secondary level." Paper presented at the 71st Annual
Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, 1985. 19pp. [ED 264
Gordon, Ronald D. "Empathy: the state of the art and
science." Paper presented at the International Conference of the World
Communication Association, 1985. 16pp. [ED 260 470]
Hirsch, Robert O. "On defining
listening: synthesis and
discussion." Paper presented at the 7th Annual Meeting of the
International Listening Association, 1986. 16pp. [ED 267 475]
Lundsteen, Sara W.
"Listening and story structure in
books for young children." Paper presented at the 6th Annual Meeting
of the International Listening Association, 1985. 16pp. [ED 264 587]
W. Listening: Its Impact at All Levels
on Reading and Other Language Arts (Revised ed.). Urbana, Illinois:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills; National
Council of Teachers of English, 1979. 179pp. [ED 169 537]
Martin, Robert. "Oral
communication," English Language
Arts Concept Paper Number 1. Portland, Oregon: State Department of
Education, 1987. 9pp. [ED 284 314]
Pearson, P. David, and Fielding, Linda.
implications of listening comprehension research." Urbana, Illinois:
Center for the Study of Reading, 1983. 28 pp. [ED 227 464]
Rankin, Paul T. "The
importance of listening," English
Journal, 19, October, 1928, pp. 623-630.
Ronald, Katharine, and Roskelly, Hephzibah.
as an act of composing." Paper presented at the 36th Conference on
College Composition and Communication, 1985. 12pp. [ED 257 094]
"InQuest: a listening and reading
strategy," Reading Teacher, 39 (7), pp. 670-675.
Strother, Deborah Burnett. "Practical
research: on listening," Phi Delta Kappan, 68 (8), April 1987, pp.
Swanson, Charles H. "Teachers as listeners: an
exploration." Paper presented at the 7th Annual Convention of the
International Listening Association, 1986.
Swanson, Charles H. "Monitoring student
techniques: an approach to teaching the foundations of a skill." Paper
presented to the Eastern Communication Association, 1984a. [ED 240
Swanson, Charles H. "Their success is your success:
teach them to listen." Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the
West Virginia Community College Association, 1984b. 23pp.
Thomlison, T. Dean.
"Relational listening: theoretical
and practical considerations." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the 5th International Listening Association, 1984. 30pp. [ED 257
Wilt, Miriam E. "A study of teacher awareness of listening as a factor
in elementary education," Journal of Educational Research, 43 (8),
April, 1950, pp. 626-636.
Wolvin, Andrew D., and Coakley, Carolyn Gwynn. Listening
Instruction. Urbana, Illinois: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and
Communication Skills; Speech Communication Association, 1979. 48pp.
[ED 170 827]
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