Listening to Understand

By Lee, Knefelkamp | Liberal Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Listening to Understand


Lee, Knefelkamp, Liberal Education


I AM TRAINED as a counseling psychologist, and for the past thirty years I have taught courses in counseling theory and practice, intercultural communication, college student development (with emphasis on intellectual, interpersonal, moral, and spiritual development), theories of identity formation (especially with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality), adult learning, ethical issues in the professions and organizations, and the psychological aspects of organizations and organizational change. The content of such courses is often challenging and causes students to examine both their own and their peers' attitudes, values, and perspectives. And because my students are expected to work in teams and small groups, they have significant opportunities for discussion of their perspectives.

I have found it helpful to prepare students both for the intellectual and the interpersonal work that will be expected of them and for how they will be expected to conduct themselves in class. On the first day of class, students are asked to read and reflect upon "Listening to Understand," which I include as an addendum to all my syllabi. They are then asked to discuss their responses in small groups. We then have a large group discussion, and at the end both the students and I sign a form stating our intentions to abide by the expectations set forth in "Listening to Understand." I have found that this simple exercise helps students treat each other with respect-especially when the topics are controversial. And it helps students begin to understand the intellectual tasks required of them in the course.

Listening to Understand

In addition to the texts in this class, each participant is, in effect, a co-text. Your background and life experiences make up an important part of the class. Your instructor holds the perspective that all classes are essentially intercultural encounters-among individuals in the class, between the readers and any given author, among the authors and the students and the professor. We are all learning how to most effectively learn from one another. Such a classroom requires particular capacities and commitments on our part. It also requires a mutual effort in helping each other both understand the course material and the differing interpretative positions we may bring to a more complex understanding of the material. While each of us seeks to advance our own knowledge, we are also a community in which we are each responsible to help the other members of the community learn effectively. …

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