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Lectures Done Right: Teaching Listening as a Skill

I’ve heard many teachers say recently that they don’t lecture to their classes. “What about those students who don’t learn that way?” they ask. Instead, they prefer to replace lectures with group discussions, learning activities, videos, games, articles, and a multitude of other approaches to learning content via interactive technology. Their question is genuine, and their strategies for instruction laudable. However, teachers who see lecture as an anachronistic or impractical mode of instruction are passing up something important: lectures offer opportunity for enhancing listening skills.

Just ask any college student or church-goer what the primary form of communication at these venues is. Or examine an employee training, a conference, or a business presentation. Lectures still thrive as a mode of communication. Not equipping student listening skills to encompass a lecture format is to put them at a disadvantage.

Many instructors frown on lectures as teacher-centered education, with students passively “absorbing” the knowledge. This does not need to be the case. Teachers do not need to consider the information inside of any lecture to be the main objective. Instead, the listening that students do stands as the ultimate aim. If we want to make lectures worthwhile, we need to approach them as opportunities to equip students as active listeners.

While the lecture is occurring, the first step students should take to actively listen is to take notes. Studies show that students who merely listen will remember a fraction of the information shared. However, students who take notes will both remember more and have a record of what was said. The paper they record on will remember for them, so to speak, until they can study the notes later. Also, students should not be encouraged to sit passively during lectures. Instead, true listening means they are asking questions and making connections. This does not mean that all lectures are discussions, but that a good classroom lecture format encourages student inquiry.

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Teachers who are interested in making students good listeners need to train them to take effective notes and ask worthwhile questions. Encourage students to write down not just what’s on the board or screen, but also what is said aloud of significance. Encourage students to make sure they understand what’s being stated or else ask questions to clarify, develop, manipulate, challenge, or amplify the content. They can even just ask to have something repeated.

Students’ active listening should be encouraged by tying assessments, assignments, and future class activities to the information gained in your lecture. Allow students to use lecture notes on exams. Ask questions on assignments that require students to apply the knowledge from lectures. Let their next learning activity, group project, or seminar discussion be a chance for them to apply for themselves the knowledge you shared with them in your lecture. And finally, encourage students to apply their skills of active listening to not only lectures, but all listening situations they may be in.

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