Listening underpins all language development and social interaction. Many children starting school find it hard to share attention, play independently, wait for their turn and follow an adult’s lead. This affects their learning but also their ability to make and maintain social relationships and play appropriately with others. Children who find listening challenging can be demanding of adult attention. They can also impact on other children’s learning by distracting them or interrupting the lesson.

Our experience has shown that, given the appropriate intervention, children can successfully learn to listen. Developing a whole school approach means that, once children have learned what ‘good listening’ means, they are encouraged to use these skills throughout the day.

4 Listening Rules

What is good listening?

Poor listeners often don’t present in the same way because listening isn’t just one skill. Saying ‘I need you to listen’ is not enough because children do not always understand what this means. Being explicit about the specific behaviour needed helps children to understand what they need to do, and why it helps them to listen is why we devised our rules:

There are four different behaviours that children need to learn in order to be a good listener:

1. Looking at the person who is talking

This is a rule for life. Looking at the person who is talking will help children; in the classroom, at job interviews and when meeting new people and making friends.

2. Staying quiet so that everyone can listen

Teaching children the importance of this rule has the biggest impact in any classroom. Children cannot talk and listen at the same time! There has been a huge rise in the amount of background noise that children are exposed to which means that they are used to talking at the same time as someone else. They have become desensitised to it and may need to be explicitly taught that staying quiet helps everyone to listen.

3. Sitting still

This is a controversial rule and it is certainly true that some children find it easier to sit still than others. However, young children typically have single channelled attention and need to look in order to listen. When they are fidgeting they are distracted by what they are looking at or playing with and so find it hard to focus on what an adult is saying. Practising sitting still in a motivating and positive way will help them to experience success at it and find it easier in future.

4. Listening to ALL of the words

The important bit of this rule is ‘all’. Learning to listen all the way to the end of your words will help children avoid making simple mistakes and will save you time.

In our experience, most children, especially at Primary age, want to please the adults that they work with. Once you have taught children these four rules then you all have a shared expectation of what good listening means and you can give them specific praise when you see them following a listening rule successfully.

How to develop a whole school approach:

  • Evaluate Children’s Listening before and after intervention using the Listening Rating Scale – This is a quick and easy tool that enables staff to more objectively evaluate the listening of the children in their class and identify specific patterns of poor listening in their pupils. Evaluating a whole class takes 15 – 20 minutes and allows schools to demonstrate the impact of their intervention.
  • Explicitly teach the rules of good listening – The ‘Teaching Children to Listen’ approach enables you to deliver a specific intervention over 6 weekly sessions to teach the listening rules and motivate children to follow them throughout the school day. Each session lasts about 45 minutes and includes an activity specifically designed to teach each rule. Schools we have worked with report that the greatest impact has been achieved when intervention is carried out with all classes at the same time so that all children are aware of the expectations and teachers know what children are able to achieve.
  • Use your knowledge of what children are capable of – Remind them of good listening that you have seen; photos are a great way of reminding children of what the target behaviour is. Remind children of the great behaviour you have seen them do. E.g. “You know that fantastic sitting you did in the bubbles game? Can you show me the same great sitting now on the carpet while we do phonics?”
  • Work with parents – Many parents are aware that their children can find it hard to focus but are not sure how to help. Both of the ‘Teaching Children to Listen’ books include information that you can share with parents on why listening is such an important skill. The Early Years book also contains games the parents can try with children at home. One of the most helpful things has been to show parents what great listening their children can do when the expectations are explicit. We have sometimes finished our 6 week listening intervention with a special listening group with parents as guests.

And finally…

When listening goes wrong it affects all of the things we try to achieve in school. However, we have found a small amount of targeted intervention can achieve positive changes very quickly.

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