When designing your own listening
The first principle informing listening pedagogy is that listening is primarily a skill of actively constructing knowledge rather than of passively receiving and retaining information. This principle positions the listener as central to the communication process: whatever meaning is constructed depends crucially on the listener’s background and experience, as well as on the listener’s expectations, motivations, and mindset during a discourse event, such as a conversation or a lecture (Bergen, 2012; Rost, 2016). Each listener is different, so what each person “hears” and “interprets” is an issue of “agency” – how they “enter” each listening event. The most useful forms of listening instruction and assessment will then focus on the process of how the listener activates background knowledge and how the listener approaches and experiences the event. Although the outcome of verbal comprehension is important, understanding the process — and particularly the decisions the listener makes — is most essential for instruction purposes (Evans, 2015).
The ability to access these less immediate — and therefore more abstract — levels of comprehension will often differentiate successful listeners in most academic and professional settings from less successful ones. Purposeful listening instruction can guide students in strategies for consciouslyactivating multiple layers of cognition and going deeper into a discourse event, to pursue comprehension more rigorously (Carreker, 2016; Singer, 2018).
The third principleis that meaning in communicative contexts isco-createdbetween speaker and listener. This principle implies that an essential part of listening ability entails initiating purposeful interaction and maintaining empathy and rapport with interlocutors in order to pursue a fuller comprehension (Rymes, 2015). Learning to engage others in meaningful interaction, explore one’s own perspective, and deepen understanding can also be modeled and taught through structured practice. Direct instruction in these skills raises learner awareness of the behavioral variables in “active listening” and assists learners in adjusting their attitudes toward becoming more collaborative in interaction (Goh & Burns, 2012).
The fourth principle involves an awareness of interpersonal dynamics in listening situations, particularly concerning the listener’s participation rights. It is well established that in any discourse setting typically one person will “manage” discourse, deciding upon topic selection and direction, turn-taking, as well as rights of listeners to “challenge” speakers’ claims (Kirova, 2015). The “discourse manager” is predictably the person with the highest perceived “status”, a status conferred – whether consciously or unconsciously — by perception of age, gender, race, physical stature, social standing, profession, or cultural status (Heritage & Clayman, 2010). Some listeners — often non-native speakers with lower “cultural status” in educational settings — may lose a feeling of “agency”, participate less, and therefore receive a diminished form of input and consequently a moderated expectation for comprehension (Ovando & Combs, 2018; Porter, 2017).
Culturally sensitive instruction in the area of listening requires continual attention to standards of equality and inclusiveness. Instructors need to be sure that all students particularly non-native speakers or speakers of a minority dialect — receive consistent high- quality instruction, and are provided with the same opportunities — and cognitive demands as majority students (Motha & Lin, 2014; Ramirez & Jimenez-Silva, 2014).
These four principles — listening as active construction of knowledge, listening at multiple levels of cognition, listening as co-creation, listening as participation — can be used as guidelines for developing instructional activities and assessments.
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