ERIC Identifier: ED295132
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Hyslop, Nancy B. - Tone, Bruce
Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Listening: Are We Teaching It, and If So, How? ERIC Digest
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 listening.
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
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 1) attempts to
define the process; 2) explanations of sequential phases in listening--how sound
is received, comprehended, and acted upon; and 3) generalist definitions that
examine aspects of listening without sequencing them or relating each to the
others as part of a process. 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.
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 1) developing the concepts in the
text by promoting discussion that ties the concepts to the students'
backgrounds, 2) establishing a purpose for listening, 3) using visual aids while
reading aloud to help the students focus attention and to reinforce concepts,
and 4) asking questions that promote both literal and interpretive or critical
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
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
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
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.
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 264 623]
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]
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]
Lundsteen, Sara 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. "Instructional 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. "Listening as an act of composing." Paper presented at the 36th Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1985. 12pp. [ED 257 094]
Shoop, Mary. "InQuest: a listening and reading strategy," Reading Teacher, 39 (7), pp. 670-675.
Strother, Deborah Burnett. "Practical applications of research: on listening," Phi Delta Kappan, 68 (8), April 1987, pp. 625-628.
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 listening techniques: an approach to teaching the foundations of a skill." Paper presented to the Eastern Communication Association, 1984a. [ED 240 653]
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 257 165]
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]