Pedagogy of Listening: Back to Basics Essay
Many approaches have been devised to cater to the needs of young learners. Throughout time, teachers have utilised visual aids, computer resources, and other electronic devices to sustain interest of young learners in school. Educators have broadened the spectrum of the teaching process by adopting learner-centered approaches, and promoting experiential learning theory. Similarly, they have optimised the learning process, and realised the advantage in group dynamics and individualised activities.
In particular, early childhood curriculum is one area that requires the use of varied resources due to the short span of attention young children have during instruction compared to those in the higher levels. For this reason, educators embark on the challenge to continue searching for other strategies to motivate young children to learn and sustain their attention. For instance, a preschool teacher preparing her everyday lesson would consider asking what could interest learners.
The strategies and preparation involved should be planned out ahead of the instruction to ensure attaining the right response. Since the need of each learner varies from another, it may be wise to consider asking learners what they want. This way, teachers would have the idea of what to provide the learners, making it easier for them to plan out. At the same time, this would make learners feel that their opinions matter to the teacher, thus imparting an open communication approach between the two parties. Every approach in education has its own use in teaching young children.
Experiential Learning, for example, teaches students to observe and learn on their own, whilst Deductive Learning trains them to learn by deducing knowledge. These and other approaches are all geared towards facilitating learning. Educators have tested their applicability and usefulness in academic instruction. However, they seem to have neglected one basic strategy that could motivate learners and keep them getting along: listening to learners. Some educators have seen the benefits of listening to learners whilst many others have set aside this idea in their research.
As such, few have been said about its advantages. For this reason, it is a valuable consideration to examine the advantages of the pedagogy of listening. In the professional scene, educators should realise that listening to learners is the core of learner-centered instruction and other approaches. If applied accordingly, this pedagogy will make way for application of other approaches in the early childhood curriculum. Aside from the professional value of the pedagogy of listening, its application also presents personal benefits to the learners.
By listening to their ideas and feelings, teachers similarly impart to their students the value of listening to others. This will likewise develop in them the ability to do insightful thinking, which they would need further when they grow up and weigh issues on their own. Additionally, applying the pedagogy of listening in the teaching of young children would help develop in them the ability to communicate ideas effectively. As teachers solicit their ideas regarding everyday lessons, learners’ facility of the language would be further developed and learning would be much easier.
Literature Review The pedagogy of listening is not a new concept. It dates back to 1924, when Susan Isaacs, the founder of the Malting House Experiential School in Cambridge, promoted the importance of active listening to children (Bryson, 2007). Later on, the initiative to base instructional plan on the ideas of children was particularly noted in Reggio Emilia, a city in Italy comprising institutions offering early childhood curriculum. In Reggio Emilia, teachers give a comprehensive dimension of the listening skill.
Carlina Rinaldi (as cited in Dahlberg & Moss, 2004) , a former pedagogical director of the municipal schools in Reggio, explains that the pedagogy of listening views listening as a complex and multifaceted concept. Unlike others who take listening for granted, thinking that it is a mere transmission of ideas from mouth to ear and brain to brain, in Reggio, listening is understood as a powerful tool that allows the creative construction of theory and meaning. By listening with all their senses, teachers allow students to creatively construct theories themselves.
When teachers listen, they listen seriously and respectfully, always assuming that although students are young, they have the ability to think creatively and intelligently. Such concept tells us that the pedagogy of listening regards students with utmost respect. All messages uttered by students are treated with importance, therefore they are documented and processed in order to formulate meaning out of them. Teachers value the thoughts of the students and consider them in the design of their instruction. The pedagogy of listening is particularly helpful to young schoolchildren who are only starting to know school.
This stage is referred to as the transitional stage, and is experienced by preschool children who are four to six years old. The Victorian Department of School Education (as cited in Dockett & Perry, 2001) described it as ‘one of the major challenges children have to face in their early childhood years’. As preschoolers undergo transition from home to school, they may have some fears arising from the unfamiliar environment and the strangers they meet. In such situation, the teachers’ role is to address those fears, and make students feel at ease. In particular, the mere presence of the teacher can create fear in the students.
By allowing venue to discuss feelings and listen to children, teachers can help ease out the tension amongst students, and break the barrier between them both. As Dockett & Perry (2001) put it, effective transition programs are based on mutual trust and respect. Listening to children’s insights at the beginning of the school year suggests the trust that teachers have on their students, and the respect they have for students’ feelings. For instance, in one setting, one child described first day in school to be a bit embarrassing as there were too many people looking at her.
She just felt a lot better when the teacher talked with her, and responded to how she felt. Having the ability to talk with young learners is a must for every early childhood educator. Specifically, Article 12 of the United Nations Children’s Rights Convention (as cited in Smith, 2007) states that ‘State Parties shall assure to the child…the right to express…views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
Subsequently, the United Kingdom government made a law further emphasising that Article 12 applies to both younger and to older children. According to the committee handling Children’s Rights, ‘as holders of rights, even the youngest children are entitled to express their views. ’ In this sense, early childhood educators are lawfully expected to perform listening to learners, no matter how young the learners are. Undoubtedly, this vision of educators of being able to empathise with the feelings of young children may be difficult for adults who do not see the value of listening.
For some, children under five are too young to express views and opinions (Bryson, 2007), therefore they do not practice the pedagogy of listening. Others may also think that their autonomy will be hampered by relying on what children say, and basing their instruction on the mindset of the children. In response to these uncertainties towards listening to learners, Dahlberg & Moss (2004) clarify that the teacher’s role is maintained in this approach. In fact, the teacher becomes the salient factor to make the practice of listening possible.
By listening to students’ verbal utterances, teachers hold the responsibility of transforming the messages into clues on how to go about the next lesson important Moreover, teachers should not limit themselves to being transmitters of knowledge, but in being the ‘co-creators’ who make meaning out of the raw speech. The pedagogy of listening also requires being open to what young learners say. As Dahlberg & Moss noted from the Reggio Emilia Approach, educators should listen with all their senses. This means listening with openness, and refraining from making judgments whilst listening.
The process of interpretation involves the whole personality, not just the thought, but also the culture and context of the idea being conveyed. Other scholars have expounded on the pedagogy of listening in different ways. Samuelsson (2004) emphasised the importance of listening to children’s story through the use of art and story telling. She claims that children always have a story to tell. As such, the role of adults, especially of teachers is to interpret their learning and guide them through interaction.
In her study, Samuelsson saw the relation between quality of communication and interaction amongst teachers and children. She explored the ways by which teachers can facilitate children’s sharing of their perspectives of the world. He noted that children are capable of constructing and communicating world views. Therefore, teachers should be competent enough in listening and processing messages by children. Aside from listening, the teacher should likewise be adept in directing children’s attention toward values and skills they need to learn.
To further elaborate her point, Samuelsson used recorded conversations, videos of interactions, and photographs that show ways by which teachers can elicit children’s views about life and the world. In the sample drawings, students showed their creativity by drawing images of their family. The teacher also learned about their family values and thoughts when children explained their thoughts in relation to the drawing. Through this activity, the author gives us some hints on how to incorporate valuing in the lesson, and provide instances when students can interact with the environment.
In support of the pedagogy of listening and the Reggio Emilia approach, Hertzog (2001) explored on the curriculum of Reggio Emilia, and noted important aspects of the early childhood curriculum offered in Italy. In her findings, she reveals ‘respect for the child’ as one very essential aspect of the approach. In application, this means that if the child is misbehaving, the teacher will not resort to directly reprimanding the child of the misbehaviour, or disciplining him by punishment. It entails the teacher to inquire from the child why he is showing such behaviour.
In other words, the role of the teacher as a listener is very important in conducting disciplinary measures. The approach dissuades from discriminatory and strict ways of disciplining the child. Instead, it offers understanding of the child’s situation, and considers outside factors that may affect the child’s behaviour. Moreover, the curriculum asks teachers to ‘listen, observe, interact, and learn from the child. ’ It provides opportunities for teachers to talk with children, and parents to consult with the teachers regarding their child’s development.
In addition, the teacher treats every child as a different case from the others, and does not view students as typical representations of their age. For the forerunners of Reggio Emilia, communication is a critical element in the progress of students. As such, communication and interaction serve as primary activities in every class undertaking. In one activity Hertzog describes, students are given opportunity to relate similarity between things instead of teaching them the elemental characteristics of things in isolation. For example, a wheel’s round shape is compared to that of the globe.
Instead of teaching about the globe, the approach provides opportunity for children to discover for themselves the similarity between object shapes, which can be perceived through interacting with others. My Professional Stance The pedagogy of listening offers many benefits especially to the young schoolchildren. It gives them freedom of expression and develops their maturity to decide for themselves, and think critically about the world. It eliminates students’ fear of the teacher or the subject itself, and brings out the individuality of every student. Moreover, the pedagogy of listening empowers the students to be communicative.
When developed completely, competence in communication could lead them to be good leaders in the future. By valuing their thoughts, teachers in turn teach students how to value people and their opinions, thus making them considerate individuals. Whilst the pedagogy of listening offers many advantages focusing on the progress of children, it likewise has some drawbacks. In particular, requiring teachers to listen and record students’ conversation is a strenuous process. It involves review, assessment, and valuing. After teachers record students’ interaction, they should find time to replay it and extract valuable information.
Therefore, this process would really take a lot of time on the part of the teacher. As such, this is not applicable in classes with around 20 or more population. Teachers will find it difficult to cover all utterances and consider each valuable response for review. Also, compliance to this approach would make teachers devote most of their time listening to children, thus neglecting other tasks which may be more important. As far as the authority of teachers is concerned, teachers might feel they have less authority when pedagogy of listening is applied.
By relying more on what students think, teachers’ decisions would appear less important, which could be one way of demoralising them. Therefore, if the approach gives importance to the insights of learners, it should similarly respect teachers’ ideas to maintain balance. If balance is not achieved, teachers might have the tendency to feel less important, thus leading them to feel unsatisfied with their jobs. In the same way, students might think that the teacher does not have a solid plan for the class, therefore feel autonomous in every task they handle.
They might think that whatever they do would not make the teacher mad, and there is always a way to reason out (because teachers always listen). In a worst case scenario, children might become abusive of the teacher’s patience, and learn how to control situations, which is similar to crying for parents to give in. The disadvantages brought by pedagogy of listening are closely related to the drawbacks of the Reader Response Theory. Both of these promote the autonomy of the learners in the learning process. In the Reader Response Theory, students are free to express whatever feelings they felt upon reading a material.
They are also encouraged to interpret the material in their own way, which may be risky at times, as there may arise some misinterpretations. Just the same, with the pedagogy of listening, students might have misconceptions of the autonomy they are given. As such, they could become overly critical of their environment, and too independent of the world they live in. If this happens, the real purpose of the pedagogy which is to promote positive attitude and democracy, might be left unrealised. In order to attain balance, one option educators might consider is to do things in moderation.
It may be alright to listen to learners all the time, but not heed their suggestions on everything, especially when the teacher knows it will not do them any good. Suffice to say, educators should be well-trained to decide when to give in and when to turn them down. Plan of Action Given the benefits of the pedagogy of listening, educators worldwide should consider incorporating it in the early childhood curriculum. Incorporating this pedagogy will particularly help teachers broaden their knowledge of their learners. To ensure implementation, school administrators, teachers, and counselors should work hand in hand.
Should educators decide to incorporate this pedagogy in the early childhood curriculum, their big role is to train teachers to implement it properly. In this regard, school administrators should take the initiative to discuss with teachers the benefits of applying the pedagogy. A week’s workshop would be ideal to hold lectures and discussion and sample actual demonstration on how to apply the pedagogy would prove beneficial. Seminars across all schools would help disseminate information, and training on its procedures would inform teachers of ways to integrate it in their curriculum.
Moreover, there should be assessment procedures to see if the teachers are ready to implement the pedagogy. Furthermore, listening sessions or activities throughout the school year should be conducted amongst teachers and school staff to further improve their listening skills and discover other strategies they can use in class. Sharing experiences and strategies with their colleagues would help teachers a lot in getting attuned to the latest trends in applying the pedagogy. Likewise, these sessions would help inspire teachers to go on with their mission.
Also, listening to other teachers’ experiences would make them realise mistakes and find ways to correct them. Likewise, future teachers should be informed of the features of the pedagogy of listening. As such, teacher training courses should include this in their program. In order to attain a full understanding of the pedagogy, students taking up Education should undergo at least one course tackling the features of the pedagogy, and applying it on actual students in the early childhood curriculum. This training would provide them the relevant knowledge to prepare them in applying the pedagogy in the actual teaching scenario.
As future educators, student trainees should be well-versed in educational theories. One way to achieve this is to read widely on topics concerning education. To obtain full understanding of the pedagogy of listening, it is recommended to continue reading literatures related to it, especially accounts of the Reggio Emilia Approach. Furthermore, it may also help to conduct some research on the applicability of the pedagogy to the early childhood curriculum so as to realise its benefits and add to the inadequate literatures on the said topic.
Moreover, appeal should be made to educational researchers to broaden their study on the topic. One way to do this is to send remarks via e-mail to authors of scholarly materials dealing on the topic. This would surely help disseminate information regarding the pedagogy, and promote its inclusion in the curriculum. Careful planning and implementation should be considered in introducing the pedagogy. Keeping in mind the drawbacks the pedagogy may have on learners, it is imperative to assess readiness of teachers and stakeholders before its promotion.
Although some teachers can easily adopt to changes in the curriculum, many would prefer to continue with their old practices and approach. In order to maximise participation amongst educators around the world, campaign on the implementation of listening to learners should also be carried out. On the part of the teacher, it is a basic requirement to demonstrate openness to the concept being applied. Each teacher should possess good listening ability and a reflective attitude. Also, the teacher should have patience and keen interest in the affairs of the students.
One basic sign of correct practice is obtaining a profound knowledge of each of the students—their family background, culture, and learning capability. By knowing them one by one, teachers would have a good understanding of students’ behaviour. Considering the growing number of multicultural students in the classroom, teachers nowadays should gain a cultural background of their students. Cultural views vary from one child to another. More often, these cultural values affect students’ way of relating with peers.
If a teacher is equipped with cultural background of students, it would be easy to trace reasons of emotional disturbance and difficulty in coping with the lessons, and mingling with other students. Aside from listening itself, the teacher should know how to tap school resources that could help in the implementation. For instance, the teacher should work closely with the school counselor or psychologist to obtain a good background of the students. Collaboration between the two would further help in the full development of the students—the reason behind the implementation of the pedagogy.
The school counselor is another school authority that should help implement the pedagogy of listening. Since the counselor is the one in charge of students’ personal records, teachers can rely on the counselor to provide supporting details to understand specific behaviours of a child. In addition, it is the responsibility of the counselor to assist the teacher in advising students of their personal problems. This suggests that the pedagogy of listening importantly applies in the counseling area. Close collaboration between the two is truly necessary to ensure providing help to the student.
Aside from the abovementioned school authorities, other school staffs who are not engaged directly with teaching and advising could help strengthen the implementation of the pedagogy. Although they are not directly concerned with instruction, they could contribute by exercising sensitivity to students whenever they are passing by the playground, eating in the school canteen or the like. During their encounters with students, they should learn to observe and note down these encounters. If they find something relevant to bring up to the teacher, they should do so and not take things for granted.
On the one hand, the school could monitor students’ negative behaviour closely, and do something to remedy it. On the other hand, it could reward positive attitude at the same time. Critical Discussion Listening to children may be considered as a revolutionary approach in education. Although this concept may not be officially implemented in schools, teachers consciously and unconsciously adopt it in their classrooms. For instance, teachers give a chance for students to express their thoughts during recitation, when they present their drawing, discuss a story they read, or say something about their family.
These activities help teachers to get to know more of their students. One crucial part of the pedagogy is encouraging students to speak or express themselves. If students do not feel free to express themselves, teachers will not have any basis for their wants and needs. Indeed, there are some students who are too shy to express themselves. When a teacher encounters a student like this, s/he should be equipped enough to do encourage the student to express thoughts and feelings. This is the reason why training on the pedagogy of listening should be ongoing.
By sharing ideas, teachers can help one another solve this kind of problem. Again, there are some considerations when dealing with a difficult situation. First, early childhood curriculum students are still undergoing a transition from the old environment at home to the new environment in school. As they undergo transition, they need much support from adults, especially their parents and teachers, who can make them feel secure. Therefore, what the teacher should do at the very beginning is to make students overcome their fears. Some strategies that allow grouping and provoke fun can develop familiarity among students.
This way, they could adapt easily with the new environment and people in the school. These activities include board and outdoor games, story telling, collage making, and interviewing their classmates. Class presentations (such as dancing and poetry recitation) are not yet advisable as they require extra effort to overcome shyness and fears. By providing activities to overcome their fears, teachers create amongst students the confidence to express themselves in front of other students. When they already have the readiness, teachers could vary activities, and dwell on those that require students to think and express themselves.
One ideal activity to reflect students’ views is role-playing. Role-playing works well to check on students’ confidence. When one asks students to role-play, it is better to let them do their own script instead of making them memorise their dialogues. This would not only help make them creative but likewise give them opportunity to express views of a certain situation. The pedagogy of listening extends itself not only in direct listening but also in considering students’ opinions through other indirect means.
Indirectly listening to children can be in the form of eliciting opinions and exercising awareness to the needs of the children without them saying those needs verbally. One form of indirect listening is extracting students’ ideas or opinions from their written outputs. Through writing activities, students can express themselves freely, without being conscious of the audience. Unlike in direct listening, teachers can take a more vivid account of students’ values and attitudes through their written outputs.
For example, activities such as poetry, short essay writing, or simple book report can perfectly mirror students’ hidden thoughts and emotions. Just like in direct listening, however, students should be well guided to ensure a fruitful output. The inclusion of the pedagogy of listening in the early childhood curriculum would give way to a positive learning environment for young children. Educators who have tried it claim its effectiveness in arousing interest amongst young schoolchildren. It also heightens students’ awareness of the world, thereby allowing them to express their thoughts and emotions.
On the part of the teachers, listening helps them gain full understanding of the needs of learners. By listening to ideas of young learners, teachers can be well guided in designing the most relevant instructional plan. Listening to children does not only promote a carefully planned instruction. It also makes the learners realise their worth as active participants in the process. By allowing them to share their knowledge, students internalise the importance of their role as learners. The more they realise this, the more students will participate, thus creating an atmosphere of proactive participation and insightful sharing.
As the pedagogy allows children to interact with others especially with the teacher, children develop a broader concept of the world and the people around them. This helps in their holistic development as individuals. Also, it promotes democratic values even at their early stage—the target of most early education schools such as those in Sweden (Curriculum for preschool lpfo 98. , 2006). Evaluating the pedagogy on the social aspects would provide reasons for any one to recommend its inclusion in the early childhood curriculum.
However, in consideration of the academic side, current literatures on the pedagogy of listening do not offer information regarding the progress of students in terms of knowledge-based learning. The literatures cited in this paper mostly deal with student participation and behaviour during arts or civics subjects; there was limited mention, however, of the pedagogy’s application in the academic subjects. Therefore, to provide sufficient sources for further research on the application of the pedagogy, more research studies should be conducted.
Another consideration researchers should take is to look into other weaknesses of the approach. This should be done to propose corrections or remedies before inclusion into the general early education curriculum. One aspect that future researchers could look into is the loophole in the process. When students are encouraged to share ideas, elements such as time could greatly affect the process. To maximise participation of the learners, the Reggio Emilia Approach suggests taking time to listen to each learner. According to Hertzog, there is no room for hurry in Reggio Emilia.
Teachers, students and parents alike take time to discuss matters amongst themselves. In the real setting, this situation may not be as simple as it seems. Spending too much time at a single activity would affect other lined up activities. As such, time spent in one activity may take longer than expected. For this reason, the amount of learning in a day may not be significant due to the limited concepts learned. Although mastery may be attained in some instances through in-depth discussion, more often, the quantity of learning could be limited. Another aspect that should be looked into is the accuracy of learned concepts.
During class discussion, when students are asked to share their thoughts, it may not be advisable to correct errors instantaneously as this might offend students and affect their confidence. Part of the listening pedagogy is to build up spontaneity by listening, thus correcting errors on the spot may not be acceptable. In this case, proper timing for dealing with errors should be decided upon. Importantly, although the pedagogy works for the self-esteem of the learners, it should not neglect accuracy. Errors should still be discussed with students at the proper time to avoid misconception.