Preparing Teachers to Teach Listening

Ian Britton
Ian Britton
Ian Britton
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In my last post (Discovering Field’s Diagnostic Listening Instruction) I explained how I am approaching listening instruction with both a listening class and a teaching listening class using Field’s Diagnostic Listening Instruction.  In this post, I want to focus on what I do with the Teaching Listening class.  I’ll include a good deal of the materials as well as some design tensions that have arisen in the past and how I’m trying to deal with them now.

My main goal is to focus students on modifying texts (audio) and tasks to best assess for gaps in listening skills and to provide skills training to fill those gaps.  In doing so, we focus largely on Field’s Decoding and Meaning-Building Processes.

Chapters 2-4 discuss beginning, intermediate, and advanced level learners (in addition to other topics mixed into each chapter).  These chapters provide for a good launching off point in the discussion of text & task modification for diverse learners.  Students in the class have to consider learner abilities at each level (ACTFL Guidelines are a helpful framework).  They then have to analyze texts (audio) for potential difficulties that learners may encounter.  Doing this for imaginary learners is less than ideal, but this lack of authenticity is address later in the course (see below).  These analyses then inform how the texts and tasks are implemented in instruction.

The activities/lessons that arise out of these activities are rather predictable.  Students tend to focus on aspects of background knowledge, vocabulary, speaker dialect and speed, number of speakers, background noise, and so forth.  This is when the students usually have to be pushed to refer to the decoding and meaning-building processes.  This takes them out of their comfort zone (based on their own learning experiences) and requires them to think about a wide range of processes that inform listening.  Follow-up assignments that required referencing the processes list tend to show a greater variety of modifications and task-types.

Take the following example.  You have a group of largely low-level English language learners.  Through initial assessments of their listening comprehension, you have found that many are unable to distinguish certain phonemes, they have difficulty finding word boundaries (isolating individual words in multiword utterances), and they have difficulty understanding many dialects that differ noticeably from the North American dialects that they have grown used to.

Knowing this about the learners, you have to choose appropriate texts and tasks to address these gaps.  While you certainly can address more than one at a time, it might be helpful here to isolate our learning objectives.  Let’s take the word boundaries issue first.   We should be addressing this specific performance gap and the processes that can help: stress-timed rhythm, stressed and unstressed words (content vs. function), pronunciation of unstressed syllables, common features of connected speech (linking, blending, elision, etc.), and so forth.

Text: Given the objective, the focus should be more on listening to each word.  In order to do this, it would probably be best for the text to be naturally spoken by a familiar speaker (teacher) or in a familiar dialect.  The text should feature content and vocabulary/expressions that learners are largely familiar with.

Task: The task is focused on these listening processes.  Teachers can explicitly teach some aspects like the features of stress-timed rhythm or these aspects can be gleaned by exposure to the language (likely mixed with some guidance by the teacher).  The tasks, however, should be focused an a particular learning objective.  For stress-timed rhythm, students can be asked to mark all of the stressed words in phrases, sentences, or paragraphs.  That task can then quickly move into a discussion about the primacy of syllables over words in listening and pronunciation.  This then leads into discussion/tasks on the pronunciation and identification of unstressed words and syllables.  This can (and should) continue until each of the learning objectives have been addressed.

These tasks are good at focusing learners on modification and role that student variables play in instructional design. However, this is largely an empty academic task.  This year, I have the good fortune to be able to offer a little more authenticity.  Learners in the Teaching Listening class will be developing lessons for actual listening classes offered by the university and taught by me.  This is the first semester that the course has been offered and I was asked to design and implement it.  I decided to eat my own dog food and attempt to apply the principles of a diagnostic listening approach to the course (I’ll write more about that experience later).  In addition, I realized that this could be a great opportunity for the English Education students to design instruction for real learners.

This semester, the Teaching Listening students will spend much of the second half of the semester developing instruction that I will implement in my classes.  The plan is to have small groups be responsible for developing lessons that address common listening problems as diagnosed by the listening class’s midterm exam.  The students will be given access to anonymized testing and assessment data, which will guide their lesson development.  Lessons (with all materials) will be submitted to me and if I think that they would benefit the listening class, I’ll teach those materials.  I’m even considering having the English Education students run the instruction, but I’m not so sure that I’ll do that.  Anyone want to convince me either way?

That’s about it for the overview.  See below for a bunch of materials related to the class.

PowerPoints that I use in the course. The chapter presentations do contain some information and  resources not in the book.

Other course materials:

 

 

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