Design Successful Learning
, Frameworks for Teaching Listening: #1 Affective Frame, Lateral Communications

Teachers, instructional designers and language researchers have become

increasingly interested in listening. The cumulative research on listening and

the growing array of listening materials available to language learners has

provided us with an expanding wealth of resources, delivered in innovative

technologies. At the same time, this current abundance has created a need

for a fresh form of guidance. More than ever, practitioners are in need of

clear principles to guide interpretation of research and to inform selection

and use of appropriate resources.

We have found that one robust concept, active listening, can guide practitioners

in identifying key principles in listening research and applying these principles

in a methodical way. By active listening we are extending the connotation of ‘being

animated when you listen’. We are referring to a broader range of cognitive

and emotional activity that could be described as ‘engaged processing’.

The purpose of this introductory section is to bring together relevant

research that has contributed to our understanding of this core concept of

active listening and to draw key implications for practice. We will organise

the range of listening research and implications into five interactive frameworks,

each with an overriding focus:

Affective Frame – focus on enhancing the listener’s personal motivation and


Top Down Frame – focus on deepening the understanding of ideas and making

stronger interpretations.

Bottom Up Frame – focus on perceiving sounds, recognising words and

syntactic structures more accurately.

Interactive Frame – focus on building cooperation, collaboration and interdependence

during the listening process.

Autonomous Frame – focus on developing effective listening and learning


Each framework provides a unique focus on the listening process as

well as insights into how listening is learned and can be taught. By understanding

the complementary character of these different perspectives, we

can appreciate that listening development requires integration of multiple


Here is an overview of the first frames

Affective Frame

Imagine this scene: Some students sit silently in the classroom and feel overwhelmed and even

oppressed by the listening activities the teacher presents. Because of the

anxiety they feel, they tune out, have little or no engagement, perform

poorly – and then feel even worse! Other students feel activated whenever

there is a listening activity, welcoming the engagement and the challenge.

They have no trouble tuning in, doing their best, and they usually make progress

in listening with seemingly minimal effort.

These two types of students represent the poles of affective involvement in

listening. What makes someone want to listen? What makes someone else

avoid listening? Research in the Affective Frame addresses this issue and

other issues related to motivation and personal engagement. Research in

this framework situates the listener as the focal point of communication, an

individual with affective needs and reactions, with a motivation for listening.

Key research findings

1. The impact of motivation

Motivation is one of the key factors influencing the rate and success of

second language (L2) learning and the level of engagement a learner is

willing to undertake. Strong motivation can even compensate for weaknesses

in language aptitude and for a scarcity of learning opportunities.

We all know stories of amazing learners, like Mawi Asgedom, the Ethiopian

refugee turned motivational speaker, who overcame daunting life circumstances

and found a way to acquire a second language at the highest

level, against all odds. Motivation is a cognitive force that allows the

learner to maintain attention and focus. (Asgedom refers to his own motivation

as a kind of ‘mental karate’ that provides him with a means to cut

through distractions.) As a kind of fuel in the learning engine, motivation

has been shown to amplify intensity of effort, intellectual curiosity and

self-confidence (Aragao, 2011). Increases in motivation have also been

shown to defuse anxiety and aversion to risk-taking, two factors that

tend to impede language acquisition (Gardner et al., 1997).

2. The importance of the instructor

We have all had teachers in various subjects who have helped us ‘come

out of our shells’ through the force of their personality, their passion

for their subject, or the way they invited us to approach learning. The

influence can be short-term, assisting the learner to perform better in a

specific task, or long-term, leading the learner to make strategic changes

to their learning style (Williams and Burden, 1999). Classroom studies

have shown that learning outcomes can indeed be influenced by several

‘pedagogic agents’, factors that are under the control of the instructor (Ko,

2010). One set of factors is course-specific – decisions about the syllabus,

teaching materials, teaching methods, learning tasks (Ahmed, 2009).

Another set of factors is teacher-specific performance – ways of showing

enthusiasm for learning, ways of giving feedback, ways of building relationships

with students, ways of structuring learning activities that

enhance group cohesion and group support (Imai, 2010).

3. The value of goal orientation

Tasks pitched at the right level – not too difficult and not too easy – often

lead to active engagement. Appropriately challenging tasks are likely to

activate optimal levels of both emotion and cognition (Swain, 2010).

Success with appropriate challenges also fuels ‘internal competition’ and

expectations of further success, and helps learners to understand goal

orientations and actively participate in goal-setting (Guilloteaux, 2007;

Guilloteaux and Dörnyei, 2008). When learners understand and participate

in content selection and learning goals, they will exert additional

attention, effort and persistence towards achieving the goals (Williams,

Burden and Lanvers, 2002.) This cyclic relationship of motivation and

effort has come to be known as the active learner hypothesis (Oxford,

2010). Goal-oriented learners in any field, not only language learning,

tend to experience an absorption that psychologists call ‘flow’, a deeply

focused immersion in learning that contributes to a higher level of performance

(Csikszentmihalyi, 2002).

4. The effect of learner awareness

Only truly motivated learners will be willing to face the long-term

challenges involved in becoming a competent L2 speaker and listener –

challenges that require a strong sense of resilience. Researchers have

found that an entry point into exploring and developing a successoriented

attitude is the notion of self-awareness and bicultural identity.

As learners aspire towards a positive bicultural identity, their motivation

becomes a powerful force for sustaining effort in and enthusiasm for

language learning (Dörnyei and Hadfield, 2013; Lamb, 2004). Many language

educators advocate exploring issues of identity and social persona

as the students become active users of the L2 (Norton, 2010; Morgan

and Clarke, 2011). As a student develops this positive identity, he or she

is much more amenable to considering new strategies – conscious ways

of improving one’s ability in the L2 (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990; Oxford,

2010). Meta-cognition – ways of thinking about how to learn more

productively and experimenting with deliberately using new strategies –

can then become a vital part of the listening instruction (Vandergrift and

Goh, 2012; Rost, 2011).

5. The power of learning styles

Author Barbara Prashnig has argued that people of all ages can learn

virtually anything if allowed to do it through their own unique styles, their

own personal strengths (Prashnig, 1998; 2006). Many L2 researchers and

language educators have embraced this notion, especially given the

diversity of students who undertake L2 learning. Howard Gardner’s seminal

work in the early 1990s established that individuals possess different kinds

of intelligence and, therefore, learn, remember, perform, and understand

in different ways (Gardner, 1991). Several distinct learning styles have

been identified: linguistic (verbal), logical-mathematic, auditory (musical),

kinaesthetic (tactile), visual (spatial), interpersonal (social) and intrapersonal.

(Two others – naturalistic and existential/preferential – are sometimes

included.) Gardner’s model is a much more accessible reformulation of

earlier models of cognitive learning styles, such as the Myers-Briggs

Personality Inventory (Myers, 1980) and the Kolb Learning Style Inventory

(Kolb, 2006; 1985). In Gardner’s framework, each style involves a fundamentally

different type of interaction with input (Jones et al., 2009). For

listening instruction, it has been proposed that engaging in multiple processing

styles and consciously departing from an emphasis solely on the

‘traditional’ learning styles (verbal and mathematical) may have a stimulating

effect on students, particularly those who have never experienced success

with language learning (Lightbown and Spada, 1999). For example, numerous

educators contend that kinaesthetic learning can be transformative for

many students, assisting them in engaging their emotions in the learning

process; kinaesthetic learning is seen as including learning through humour

and laughter (which evokes positive chemical changes in the brain), drama

and creative movement (Martin, 2007; Taylor, 2001; Bell, 2009).


1. This will seem obvious, but stimulating the learner’s motivation is essential in promoting active

listening. Active listening is triggered by affect: how the listener feels

about the listening encounter, his or her level of confidence or anxiety

about making an effort to listen.

2. This one may not seem obvious, but the instructor’s expertise and personal and professional qualities are

vital for creating enthusiasm for learning. How so? The first key is in instructional design.

Selecting engaging tasks will promote active listening: designing motivating learning tasks, generating

enthusiasm towards learning, building positive relationships with students,

rewarding active listening attitudes and behaviours, nurturing

group support among students.

3. This one is less obvious, a cross-over between motivating students and using your own expertise as an instructor.

This is about choices. Offering learners choices in goal-setting and presenting appropriate challenges

will tend to increase the level of motivation (required to become a proficient listener.

How so? Remember that motivation directly impacts attention, effort, and persistence.

4. This one receives mixed reviews, but our experiences is that it provides a key to progress for many learners.

It’s about developing learner awareness concerning the nature of language learning,

particularly the notion of including explicit listening strategy training. Direct inclusion of learner strategy training

is likely to improve learners’ participation and increase their overall motivation for learning.

It also provides an avenue for interaction with the teacher so that you can provide individual coaching.

5. Providing learners with opportunities to experiment with and integrate

different processing styles is likely to lead to greater motivation, more

affective involvement, and better learning results.

This material is adapted from Rost and Wilson (2013) Active Listening. New York: Routledge.