Magazine article AMLE Magazine

3 Tips for Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

3 Tips for Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills

Article excerpt

There is truth to the old adage "what is tested, is taught," particularly in the past several years of assessment mania. The question we need to be asking ourselves, though, is what "test" are we preparing our students for?

Clearly, standardized assessments have their place, but some of the biggest tests our students will experience will not come in the form of paper and pencil; rather, students are going to face an increasingly connected and communicative 21st century, and those without strong speaking and listening skills are going to be relegated to lower-paying jobs with fewer opportunities. We can already see this happening, and as the speed and ease of communicating globally continues to accelerate, the true capital will be in the ability to synthesize and collaborate.

What can we do to prepare our students for this eventuality? Here are three strategies to incorporate 21st-century communication instruction of speaking and listening skills into your daily teaching:

Overt Instruction

"I need a pencil," the slouching boy said quietly, as he looked right past me. He stood, seemingly agitated, shifting from foot to foot.

"I can let you borrow one. But, I want to tell you a better way to get one. Right now I feel like you are irritated at me because you don't have a pencil. When you don't look at me, I feel like you are mad. You seem like you want to run away because you keep moving around. Maybe you could ask a question instead of just stating your problem. Any ideas?" I said, slowly and carefully choosing my words. I wasn't trying to be condescending, and I didn't want teenage angst to mistake my tone.

"Can I have one?" he asked, glancing at me.

"Of course. Here you go," I said, opening my drawer. As I handed it to him, I asked, "Can I show you how this whole conversation could make both of us feel capable instead of awkward?"

"Whatever. Sure," he said, acquiescing, since he didn't really have any choice.

"Hi, Todd. I'm sorry to bother you. I seem to have misplaced my pencil. May I borrow one?" I said, modeling for him what a successful interaction would look like in this situation. I smiled and kept eye contact.

"So be nice. Is that what you're saying?" Todd asked, looking me in the eye for the first time.

"Yes. But it is more than that. It is the way you speak-with confidence, but politely, and how you listen-with your eyes and ears. When you are trying to communicate, you give off a vibe. You want to make that vibe the best you can."

Todd nodded and turned quickly away when the bell rang. Did this quick interaction make Todd a shoo-in for a Fortune 500 job? No, but it did pave the way for appropriate social interactions that involve speaking and listening.

At first glance this scenario may not seem to be so much academic as a question of manners; however, a closer look reveals that the Common Core Standards require students to: "Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate." The best part of addressing the speaking and listening standards is that it is a literacy issue that can be advanced in any classroom situation.

I'll be the first to tell you that the overt conversation I am suggesting here is a bit uncomfortable at the onset. However, where else in the curriculum can you have this kind of immediate and useful impact? As we project what our students are going to need in the future, we can be sure that communication is crucial. This is a power standard that will pay great dividends as we shape students' speaking and listening skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

One of the things I love at this moment in education is the reevaluation of what expertise is necessary and which skills we've been teaching out of habit. I vividly remember teaching my students how to use MLA style, explaining how to remember the specific parts of a Works Cited That was fewer than 10 years ago, yet it seems like a horrible waste of time to today's students because of advances in technology and websites like Noodletools that will generate your Works Cited for you, as long as you plug in the information. …

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