Educational research has consistently shown that many students fall behind in oral communication and literacy development because of a lack of listening skills.  In the past, the need for listening instruction was frequently characterized in terms of deficiencies: lack of sustained concentration, reluctance to sustain interaction, difficulty in evaluating and recalling critical information, incapacity to integrate ideas, struggles in building knowledge, failure to formulate coherent responses (Marzano, 1991; Alonso, 1996; Gilbert, 1998). More recently, the need for listening pedagogy is characterized in terms of enrichment: enabling learning to explore new meanings, empowering students to make connections, promoting fuller participation and understanding (Concannon-Gibney, 2018; Donoghue, 2009).

Whether we adopt a remediation framework (in an attempt to “fix” broken skills) or a developmental framework (in an attempt to “add” new skills), there is a need for explicit listening instruction at all levels of education..   This chapter offers research-based approaches to the teaching and assessment of listening in instructional settings. We first review four central principles underlying listening instruction generally, then examine four listening constructs central to the development of targeted listening skills. Next, listening assessment consistent with these principles is introduced. The chapter ends with directions for additional research.

Pedagogic Principles

Listening behavior is exhibited in a range of contexts: social and business, conversational and academic, interpersonal and media-based, live and distant, individual and group formats, with native languages only and with second languages involved. Across contexts, however, communication research has revealed some fundamental principles of effective listening that can serve as foundations for listening pedagogy (Bostrom, 2011;  Bond, 2012; Caspersz & Stasinska, 2015).

Principle One

Listening is primarily a skill of actively constructing knowledgerather than of passively receiving and retaining information. This principle positions the listener as central to the communication process: whatever meaning is constructed depends crucially on the listener’s background and experience, as well as on the listener’s expectations, motivations, and mindset during a discourse event, such as a conversation or a lecture (Bergen, 2012; Rost, 2016). The most useful forms of listening instruction and assessment will then focus on the process ofhow the listener activates background knowledge and experiences the event.Although the outcome of verbal comprehension is important, understanding the process — particularly the decisions the listener makes — is essential for instruction purposes (Evans, 2015).

Principle Two

Listening occurs at multiple levels of cognition. The most immediate level addressespersonal relevance — a fundamental goal of human cognition. A listener’s attention is naturally oriented to assess personal impact of any input event (Wilson & Sperber, 2012). This means that every listener is poised to respond to the question: How does thisevent(information, experience) impact me at this time? Additional levels of delayed comprehensioninvolve affective discernment (understanding speaker intention), cognitive inference (understanding implications), and social application (calculating a response). These additive levels of comprehension are available to every listener, if given the opportunity and motivation to pursue them (Baggio, 2018).

The ability to access these less immediate, more abstract levels of comprehension often differentiates successful and unsuccessful listeners in most academic and professional settings. Purposeful listening instruction can guide students in strategies for going deeper into a discourse event, to pursue comprehension more rigorously (Carreker, 2016).

Principle Three

Meaning in communicative contexts isco-createdbetween speaker and listener. Thus, an essential part of listening ability entails initiating purposeful interaction and maintaining empathy and rapport with interlocutors in order to pursue fuller comprehension (Rymes, 2015). Learning to engage others in meaningful interaction, explore one’s own perspective, and deepen understanding also can be modeled and taught through structured practice. Direct instruction in these skills raises learner awareness of the behavioral variables in “active listening” and assists learners in adjusting their attitudes toward becoming more collaborative in interaction (Goh & Burns, 2012).

Principle Four

Interpersonal dynamics in listening situations involve an awareness of the listener’s participation rights. In any discourse setting, typically one person will “manage” discourse, guiding topic selection and direction, turn-taking, as well as rights of listeners to “challenge” speakers’ claims (Kirova, 2015). The “discourse manager” is predictably the person with the highest perceived “status,” a status conferred – whether consciously or unconsciously — by perception of age, gender, race, physical stature, social standing, profession, or cultural status (Heritage & Clayman, 2010). Some listeners — often non-native speakers with lower “cultural status” in educational settings — may lose a feeling of agency, participate less, and therefore receive a diminished form of input and consequently a moderated expectation for comprehension (Ovando & Combs, 2018).

Culturally sensitive instruction in the area of listening requires continual attention to standards of equality and inclusiveness. Instructors need to be sure that students, particularly non-native speakers or speakers of a minority dialect — receive consistent high-quality instruction and are provided with the same opportunities — and cognitive demands as majority students (Ramirez & Jimenez-Silva, 2014).

These four principles — listening as active construction of knowledge, listening at multiple levels of cognition, listening as co-creation, listening as participation — can be used as guidelines for developing instructional activities and assessments.


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