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May 16, 2007

A Listening Ear

All I have to do is turn on a cable news show with talking heads barking at each other to know how important listening is for the young generation I teach.  I work intensely with my students on their ability to listen to teachers and each other.

Like any other skill, I start my plan for listening skills by familiarizing myself with the state’s idea of mastery.  The NJ Preschool Expectation for listening is pretty comprehensive.  In addition to following directions with several steps, students must demonstrate proficiency in engaging in a dialogue with others and incorporating ideas from previous discussions and songs into play.

With these guidelines in mind, I design lessons that cover each component.  These can be games explicitly dealing with following directions (Simon Says has always been my favorite) or increasingly complex directions given to students in small group and one-on-one interactions during choice time.

Story time discussions are obviously valuable opportunities for students to strengthen listening skills as they listen to the teacher read to them.  Students can also work on listening to their peers as we engage in a dialogue about the story.  I have taught my children how to build on the comments of another student and respectfully offer alternative ideas by using phrases such as “I agree” or “I disagree.”  During a recent read-aloud of the book Giraffes Can’t Dance, Jeffrey noted, “I think the giraffe is gonna leave the jungle ‘cause the lion mean to him.”  Samar then responded, “No, he not gonna leave.  The other animals will be nice to him.”

As you can imagine, with 14 four year olds egocentric tendencies can pose challenges for the frequency and depth of these kinds of interactions.  Tanasia, whose mind was often on her family in the beginning of the year, would comment on her brothers and sisters regardless of the topic of our class discussions.  After months of working on listening skills and becoming more comfortable in the classroom, she now makes comments and asks questions pertinent to stories.  During a story for Mother’s Day just last week, in which the mother is in a wheelchair, she asked, “Ms. Pappas, why she in the wheelchair?”  Derrell demonstrated his own growth in listening by answering her: “I think she fell in the street and was hit by a car.”

Students also show progress by incorporating ideas from discussions and stories in their play.  After building a house in the Blocks Area, Fuquan told everyone to step back and then cried, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” thereby applying his knowledge of the Three Little Pigs to his independent work.  Ravon showed me a turtle moving slowly in the Discovery Area after we acted out The Tortoise and the Hare during Outdoor Play time.

These skills lay a strong foundation for our students as they head off to kindergarten, having gained an understanding of how to follow directions and recognize the perspectives of others in pre-k.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some “Hardball” and “O’Reilly Factor” to catch up on...


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Listening to our students is one of the most important things we do. I try to find time to listen to each student every day. Our children live in a world that is in a rush. Often they are told things or directed. Having someone listen to them and their having opportunities to respond really gives them a chance to bloom.

I agree Kathleen. Teachers really need to engage their students in discussions rather than always direct them. While we have discussions throughout the day, I find that meal times in particular are great for asking children about their experiences at home and in school.


My husband and I started a listening game with my 4 year old -- almost by mistake. They were being silly, doing the "no I didn't", "yes you did" back and forth banter. I quietly whispered to my husband to change his side...from "no I didn't" to "yes I did" to see if my son would notice. Pretty quickly he began to catch on and now listens to for when my husband changes, then he changes his side.

That sounds like a great idea! Thanks.


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