Design Successful Learning


Objective listening skills have long been highly valued since the inclusion of listening sections in major standardized language tests (Buck, 2001).  The skills that have been assessed most widely fall into two major categories:

• Top-level attributes

The ability to recognize main ideas and themes

The ability to identify relevant information to support an idea

The ability to make inferences from information given

The ability to draw on lexical knowledge and pragmatic knowledge to solve problems

• Bottom-level attributes

The ability to recognize rapidly spoken text in real time

The ability to isolate words and phrases when spoken rapidly

The ability to parse utterances into grammatical classes

The ability to sort dense information into logical classes

Both these “top down” and “bottom up” categories are essentially “receptive skills”, that is recognizing and processing what the speaker has just said.  While receptive skills are necessary for proficient listening, it is beneficial to choose the most engaging practices possible to develop these skills. 

• Pre-listening activation

Comprehension is maximized when a degree  of expectation is activated before listening (Madani & Khierszadhi, 2018). Pre-listening activities that have been shown to be most effective are: pre-teaching of vocabulary, content discussions, pre-listening questions, and examination of “advance organizers”, such as illustrations and charts. In addition to preparing working memory to process information more efficiently, pre-lsitening activities also “prime” content schemata (organized systems of semantic memory) to find deeper connections of meaning (Jafari & Hashim, 2012). 

• While-listening comprehension tasks

“Continuous comprehension” skill — the ability to follow longer stretches of discourse — can be developed through “while listening tasks”. These are structured activities that learners undertake while they are listening to a text, or when the text is paused. These tasks serve as scaffolds to help learners focus on key information. For instance, key elements may be omitted from a chart or graph or map, so that the listener can identify the importance of the missing information. Such tasks help learners build comprehension skills in a “top-down” fashion: they see the “big picture” first and then are asked to fill in gaps with new information (Vandergrift & Baker, 2015)

• Fast speech perception activities

Listening comprehension is based on fast speech recognition, which is an approximating process since the speech signal is typically distorted – reduced and assimilated – during normal articulation. Because so many word recognition and syntactic parsing decisions have to occur quickly (on average two or three per second), speech rate is a common problem for L2 listeners (Buck, 2001). Difficulties occur not only because of the speed itself, but because L2 listeners may not be trained in decoding connected speech phenomena’, the distortions that make speech sounds different from ‘citation forms’ of the words in isolation (Bloomfield et al., 2011). Although L2 learners can eventually learn “top down strategies” (idea driven) to fill in parts of the speech signal they are unable to process accurately, it is essential for learners to build up their “bottom up” (signal driven) perception abilities. 

One sample activity in this domain is to isolate a small number of sentences that occur in a text, and to pronounce them slowly – using pauses and clear articulation of words – and then quickly – using normal assimilation processes. In this way, learners can come to modify their expectations about how normal speech actually sounds (Broersma and Cutler, 2008). 

• Post-listening appropriation

While pre-listening activity influences comprehension, activities the listener undertakes during and after listening will significantly influence retention of both vocabulary and concepts (Armbruster, 2009). Particularly, productive output tasks (involving speaking, discussion, and writing) provide a more potent encoding effect. Additional positive effects, most notably improved recall, are observed when active while-listening tasks such as note-taking, are paired with post-listening tasks, such as review and summarizing (Armbruster, 2000). Most significant post-listening tasks for enhancing engagement are “appropriation tasks” in which the learners do further research and give presentations on a related topic of their choice (Donato, 2004; Thornbury, 2002).