Discovering Field’s Diagnostic Listening Instruction

Photo by garageolimpo
Photo by garageolimpo
Photo by garageolimpo

When I was first given a class on teaching listening, I scoured the bookstores for a textbook.  It was at that point I realized just how little respect listening instruction receives in publication.  There are a handful of books that cover a mix of speaking and listening, including a well-respected book by Paul Nation, Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking. Most of these books short change listening, though Nation treats it better than most.  A class dedicated to the practice of teaching listening shouldn’t have to share a text with speaking instruction.  A focused class deserves a focused text.

I finally found John Field’s book, Listening in the Language Classroom.  Field’s book is an amazing take on listening instruction.  He promotes using a “diagnostic approach” to listening instruction, which he contrasts with what he refers to as a “comprehension approach.”  This changed the way that I approached language instruction and the preparation of teachers who will have to do the same. I was one of the many who treated listening as a kind of solitary unit that learners either got or didn’t get. I never thought thought about WHY they had difficulties understanding past the obvious (and overly emphasized) issues of speed and vocabulary.

I was excited to use this with my students at the time and did so in that first semester.  It was one of the biggest disasters of my teaching career.  I rightfully had high expectations for the students in the class (all English Education majors), but I so completely misjudged the difficulty of the text.  It was a rookie mistake and both the students and I suffered for it.  I ended up sidelining the book and created outlines and presentations for the students to read/listen to instead (those outlines can be found on this Posterous site until the service closes down on April 30, 2013).  While that experience soured me on using Field’s book with my students, it did nothing to dissuade me from using his ideas with future classes.

I now try to integrate Field’s concepts and approach to instruction with a much easier, accessible text for learners in my classes (Practical English Language Teaching: Listening).  This series of books is written to be as accessible as possible to novice learners in the field of TESOL.  The “Listening” book is no exception.  In the past, I’ve spread the book out over the duration of a semester while sprinkling in concepts from the Field book to add depth.

This semester I’m trying something new.  The first 4 chapters will be done primarily as self-study, while I put more of a focus on Field’s concepts and the application of those concepts with different groups of learners (in parallel with chapters 2-4 in the PELT: Listening text).  The second half of the semester students will primarily be developing lessons for two listening courses taught at the university, with a focus on diagnosing student problems and implementing instructional interventions that address these weaknesses.  I’m quite excited about this partnership and a little nervous as well.

I’ll be following up here on this project throughout the semester, discussing the challenges and, hopefully, successes throughout.

 

I’d love to hear any thoughts that you have.  What experiences have you had with teaching listening or with teaching teachers how to to teach listening (that’s a mouthful)?  Anything I should look out for? Anything I should try?  Any great lessons that go beyond simple comprehension?

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