Jayme M. Yeo shares some things she’s learned about listening to students for our Teaching Tips series. See her other writing for the ESN blog here.
For me, there is no more challengingâ€”or importantâ€”pedagogical exercise than listening. At its most basic, listening to my students signals to them that our conversations in class are real, and that I respect and value their contributions. But it does more than that: really listening to my students also challenges me to see course material with new eyesâ€”their eyes. It forces me to approach the familiar grounds of knowledge using unfamiliar pathways. At its best moments, listening to my students equalizes us as we become collaborators in the project of learning.
I offer here three concrete practices for listening in the classroom:
- Be present. You are entering the classroom. Pause. Breathe. Acknowledge your students. Repeat this practice throughout class to avoid pushing too quickly past student questions or feedback. Being present is slow and slowing. It means that you may not â€œcoverâ€ all the material you want to. You may abandon entire Powerpoint presentations to pursue studentsâ€™ questions. At the same time, it doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™ll allow a misplaced question to derail the conversation. Itâ€™s a balancing act, being present.
- Give students the tools to speak. Reading questions or, even better, preparation assignments ensure that students will have thought about the conversation before it even begins. In classes of up to 25 students, I assign daily writing tasks. Far from â€œbusyâ€ work, these are questions we directly discuss in class. Sometimes I ask students to revise their initial responses during a class session. They challenge their thoughts, hopefully change them. I grade preparation writing on good faith effort, which takes about 10 minutes for each class session.
- Ask students for feedback. Conduct mid-term formative reviews using a teaching center or a colleague if necessary, at week 4 or 5 in the course. I ask students three questions, based on my institutionâ€™s teaching center evaluations: â€œwhat has helped you learn in this class, what has prevented you from learning, and what changes to the class would help you learn better?â€ Mid-term reviews are not for the faint of heart: be prepared to make real adjustments. For weeks following a midterm review, I will point out changes I make in class. â€œYou asked for more small group work, so thatâ€™s what weâ€™re doing now.â€ I want students to know that I heard them, that, like them, Iâ€™m learning. I want them to know that, from where I stand, we are all always learning.
About the author:
Jayme M. Yeo is Associate Professor of English at Belmont University. She teaches and writes about poetry, Shakespeare, and prison education, and she is currently working on the history of Shakespeare in the regional American South. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Whiting Foundation and her work appears in journals and anthologies including Shakespeare Bulletin, Shakespeare and the Pedagogies of Justice, and The College English Association Forum. When not reading or thinking about Shakespeare, she enjoys hiking the mountains of Middle Tennessee with her husband and son.