Teacher - English, West Virginia Department of Education

This conversation is closed.

Why should listening be taught as a skill in school?

Julian Treasure proposed an excellent problem in his video about listening. Why isn't listening taught in school? Young adults are surrounded by noise and distraction. Could this be an obstacle to problem-solving and mediation in our world? What do you think?

  • thumb
    Aug 24 2011: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

    A powerful listener is someone who is able to focus on what another person is saying without getting distracted. A powerful listener has intense focus. A powerful listener is present in the moment of the conversation. Perhaps our reason for overlooking this skill is that it sounds so easy to achieve but in practice it is very difficult. It requires putting our own needs aside to listen to another.

    To achieve this requires ensuring that you are feeling confident about yourself and fully aware of your needs at that moment. It is far better to say that you are not able to listen to someone when you can’t than to fake it. This type of deception is picked-up immediately and any attempt at creating a trusting relationship may fail.
    • thumb
      Aug 24 2011: Very well said Nino. Yet one needs to give energy to listen active what is too much to ask from a lot of people. It takes less energy as one is trained to listen what can be done simply by storytelling and singing or music classes. And foremost this has to start at an early age.
    • Aug 24 2011: Inspiring Nino. but i was one of those bad listeners well because of the noise in our world today. My question is how to break a bad listening habit and develop a good one?
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2011: I believe that we must teach listening in schools and adult continuing education. Listening is the foundation of good communication skills.

    Thirty years ago I made a commitment to improve my communication to better engage with the people in my life. Controlling a pronounced stutter was the first hurdle. After speech therapy over several years I became a conversation partner that didn't require perseverance on the part of others. As a member of Toastmasters for 10 years I further improved my skills to a point that public speaking became a possibility. I was a TED Professor at TED2008 and spoke at TED Palm Springs2010. I try to speak with the perspective of the audience at the forefront. I listen actively, maintaining eye contact with the person speaking. I try never to interrupt. Interrupting is like saying, "Shut Up!" I have a sincere interest in listening to and learning from others. I believe that my improving communication skills have strengthened my relationships with my wife, children, friends and co-workers, because I learned to listen more carefully and choose my words more wisely. My productivity at work has increased significantly. I am much happier and less stressed because of the improved engagement.

    While teaching listening in schools needs serious attention, I believe that all of us can help by improving our own listening skills. Our children can learn from us and their children can learn from them.
    • Aug 6 2011: Well said, Bud. I think it was Socrates who said, "If a man would move the world, he must first move himself." Lead by example.

      Thank you so much for your dedication and for leading by example.
  • thumb
    Aug 4 2011: I teach Gr 7 and I teach listening once a week for about 60-90 minutes. I find positive news stories (from GoodNewsNetwork) and read them out to my students. They take notes as they listen. We start the year by just doing summaries of the story. As the year progresses they have to listen for new vocabulary [the first stories we do I replace any words I think they will find difficult or not know], then they have to ask 2 questions whose answers can NOT be found in the story, and toward the end of the year they have to make inferences. It is interesting to see how they process. Some write down almost everything I say!, some write no notes but still manage a summary, and a couple each year cannot at all 'get it'.This last point leads us to learning difficulties/disabilities some students have with auditory processing.
    A few students really don't like the whole activity much, but others love it and it has led to some interesting discussions in class. One former student came back and told me how easy it is for him to take notes in his Gr 8 classes, and that one of his friends keeps asking him 'how do you do that? (listen AND write at the same time). It was very gratifying to hear it coming from a student that this is a skill he honed by doing these activities with me.
    • Aug 5 2011: A very nice exercise Ed. Congratulations.
    • thumb
      Aug 5 2011: Great idea Ed and what an impact you are making with your students.
  • thumb
    Aug 2 2011: Effectively teaching listening in our schools could transform the educational system. An important part of teaching is modelling and schools would have to listen to the individual needs and concerns of students if listening were effectively modeled. This understanding would lead to the realization of how the artificial structure of classrooms and grades interferes with how children naturally learn. It would become listening as a subversive activity ((to paraphrase a book on education from the 60's).
    • Aug 3 2011: Well said, Bob. It would transform both students and faculty. Thank you for sharing this.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: To listen is to open yourself up to new ideas. Listening isn't thinking about what I want to say next which is what I used to do when "listening." It wasn't until I was faced with the consequences of bad listening that I had to learn a new way. I wish I had been taught tools to listen in school. As a late in life listener, I now see the value of this skill. Part of the skill of listening is understanding how our individual brains process information differently so that we can listen more effectively. I believe the most important lesson in life is to learn to be present in our world. This requires practice and the skill of listening. To me, listening can include person to person, meditation, and using intuition. In my role as a friend, daughter, employee, boss, mom, and human being, I've found that being a good listener is the best way to connect, learn, grow, and be present. I look forward to a day when schools are focused on teaching life skills instead of test taking.
    • Aug 2 2011: Thank you, Jennifer. That is what I am talking about. You said it perfectly when you said "he most important lesson in life is to learn to be present in our world." Many young people lack this and it comes as a shock to them later in life when they miss something important. Thank you for understanding and for your input.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: Hi Jason,

    In answer to the 3 questions:
    1. Why isn't listening taught in school?
    In school subjects are taught that we are thought not to know much about and so skills have to be improved. Whether it be Math, Languages, History etc.
    Anything to do with our sensory perceptions (smelling, touching, hearing, seeing, tasting -and listening and speaking as well) are taken for granted as soon as we get past the infancy stage. We grow up under the misguided perception that ‘being able to speak means that we know how to communicate’ and ‘being able to hear means that we know how to listen’ etc. They are not seen as skills to be taught.

    2. Why should listening be taught as a skill in school?
    Because listening is the most vital part of communication. From the moment we are born and want to connect with our surroundings you will need to communicate. To acquire a satisfactory result you will need the skill to listen. History has shown that we are not good at listening. So it should be taken seriously enough to make it part of the curriculum and to teach it in school at an early age.

    3. Young adults are surrounded by noise and distraction. Could this be an obstacle to problem-solving and mediation in our world?
    There has always been noise and distraction. Every generation is confronted with its own growth and technological developments and the noise and distractions that come with it. I believe that if we are taught the Listening Skill at an early age, that we will be better able to deal with the wide variety in noise and distractions that comes our way. And this will lead to better problem-solving and mediation.

    Hope this helps.
    Kind regards,
    • Aug 2 2011: It does help, Astra. Thank you so much for your outstanding insight. I agree with and love everything you said here. Thank you.
  • Aug 23 2011: Its a sad day when we need to teach young people to listen but its so true. Do you know what kids attention spans are like these days? Between texting, video games, sports, and everything else they can't pay attention to one thing for more than 5 seconds.
  • Aug 22 2011: It is vital in the classroom to teach students to listen. However, Julian's mention of the importance of intent is something we may not always do it well. By is something that needs to be developed and you cannot teach a student anything if they do not know how to listen. Listening is not just being quiet but also understanding what has been said. If the student is unable to make sense of what you have said whether because they do not understand or were in another world you have wasted your time. Getting students to listen is not difficult but firstly you need to make them want to listen and research show that this can be achieve best by engaging the students in learning but also having a positive student-teacher relationship where the student makes a real connection to the teacher and subject and feels the teacher has a real interest in their lives and their success.
    • thumb
      Aug 22 2011: Interesting as today was the first day of school for me (well actually my LAST first day of school as I am retiring in June ;-)) and I asked the students to write on a notecard three things a good teacher does to make them want to learn and feel safe; and then three things a student does to be successful and show respect to both teachers and other students. When they were done, I went around the room as asked students to share one from their card. In every class, it came up that both students and teachers need to "listen" to each other. And I used that for a short discussion. I asked first if listening and hearing are the same or different, and all said they were different. I then asked how they were different and each class said (but in different words) that listening is understanding what is said and usually the other person reacts in some way at to what he/she is listening to with the most obvious one being eye contact. They felt that many teachers really didn't listen to them, esp. when they had problems,,, not really excuses, but problems that they really needed help with. I think this is what helps to make a positive student-teacher relationship like you had mentioned above. Conversely, I told them that they need to do the same for me when I am talking as well as their peers. They need to respond by either shaking heads, raising hands, adding to the conversation or asking questions and of course LOOKING at me! Up until last year when cell phones were not banned in the classroom, it was so obvious that many of my students were not listening as they were engaged in texting, or worrying about a text ot FB status, or thinking about what to text next. They were NOT living in the moment of LISTENING!
      • Aug 24 2011: Good insights, thank you Linda. We need more teachers like you however.
  • Aug 18 2011: There is a traditional Chinese symbol for "listening" that translates into something like "one listens with one's eyes, one's ears, one's heart as if listening to a king."The "modernized" version of this symbol has been simplified to something that translates more like: one weighs what one hears, then rebukes/refutes with one's mouth."This shift is not a simplification or modernization; these two definitions are of completely different acts. Everyone should learn the difference.

    Confession: I was an English teacher in a past life. This discussion seems to back my belief that it is the most critical of the "core subjects" in spite of its often being treated as the least important.
  • Aug 18 2011: Hello,
    Parents can begin the listening model for their children as early as the first sounds come out. Respectful listening teaches children that communication is like a graceful dance. Reflective listening lets our children know that we are trying to be sure we hear their thoughts or feelings. Our tendancy is to want to want to preach and solve problems.
    This is not what children need. Problem solving is an entirely different skill based on consultation.
    Thank You,
  • thumb
    Aug 13 2011: Too many are so busy thinking about what they will say next. Many interrupt the speaker frequently, which makes it very obvious that they are not listening.....
    Teaching how to listen would benefit everyone! Begin in early educational systems how to reflect what has been said so that a response can occur to the speaker....
  • thumb
    Aug 12 2011: Life is a school. We are its students.
    The great greek philosopher, Epictetus once said that:
    “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
    And this is indeed a skill.
  • J G

    • +1
    Aug 11 2011: I see a positive side and a negative side.

    If we only teach children to listen when they are too young and vulnerable they will have higher risks of getting wrong paradigms installed within their subconscious mind, paradigms that may be correct today but perhaps incorrect at some point in the future, paradigms that may block their full potential, paradigms that they may find hard to get rid of.

    I see the positive side of teaching listening skills in schools in an early age, that would be fine if the hypothesis that 'children will never receive wrong messages' was true. Unfortunately a lot of bad stuff could go into their minds, specially if we amplify their receptivity.

    When you are a child (and when you are not a child) there is some magic in not knowing and I think that the joy of discovering comes from that curiosity to know.

    I would suggest not only teaching children listening skills but also abilities to communicate disagreement and persuasion techniques as well as telling them that if they don't agree they have a right to open a debate. If we teach them critical thinking they will have higher chances to filter or stop the wrong messages, they will enjoy debating as a way to share the same curiosity with others and at the end they will have higher chances to construct a better future all together.
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2011: To answer your exact question as to WHY should listening skills be taught in schools? I might add that Listening is an important skill to improve, simply to live a creative and joyful life. As I have said before, we need to pay attention so as to understand.
    What we "pay" in the act of paying attention is the currency of of our mental content. This means giving up certain thoughts ( putting them aside) that obstruct us from actually hearing the words of the other with whom we are in conversation with. This may be too much for teenage minds to cotton on to, but the teacher in simply knowing this will him /her self become a better listener and teach by example.

    Young people also learn by copying what they see, consciously and/ or unconsciously. Learning to speak correctly, slowly and to pronounce their words and letters correctly is related to better listening (without trying to listen)

    To listen means to take in, to hear means to be distracted from self, perhaps that is another issue for another time ?
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2011: I think a few people tip-toed around the idea of "critical thinking" which to me should be it's own class in the current curriculum. A critical critique class. The number one practice in that class should be "criticism" and how to give and receive it, because that is where the hardest lessons arise from...

    Listening fully would require you to have the foundation necessary to understand what you are receiving. You can be the best listener but if you do not have any previous knowledge of a topic, you either A. ask question(s), B. continue listening until you figure out something and/or C. tune it out. Discipline and open-endedness are the two primary factors NOT in education today, which makes education crap all around.
    • Aug 8 2011: Nice response Nicholas. It would be a great thing to teach listening in that way.
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2011: May I offer the following thought on the topic?

    The word "Obediance" comes from the Latin word Obaudiance, meaning to "throughly listen"......

    The word "Absurd" comes from the Latin word, Absurdas, meaning absolutely deaf.

    Offering a few comments on this important subject within an existential context, I propose that we are all units of Understanding, and we are forever becoming what we understand.

    To listen and to pay attention is a primary way of getting understanding. We have to "pay attention" so as to understand.

    Teaching listening skills in schools class can be organised by encouraging pupils to pay attention to the appropriate subject matter being offereed to the class and to each individual concerned.. There has to be an enthuseastic response from the pupil concerned for this to happen.

    Respect is always going to draw one;s attention, so good teachers worthy of respect is where it al starts. They will always be listened to.
    • Aug 6 2011: Well said, Patrick. Thank you for the relevant and informative Latin lesson. You are exactly right. If students feel respected, they will listen. Often, young people put up walls, especially when adults are speaking, and even more so when strange adults are speaking because they have not been respected by most adults they have encountered. So I agree that it begins with respect.

      Thank you so much for your insight.
  • Aug 4 2011: If we listened to each other, maybe we'd be able to stop fear, anger and hate in ourselves. That's the short version.
  • thumb
    Aug 3 2011: It has to be taught because the current generation sees no purpose in communicating with each other, and when something is boring them, they go back to their mobile device.

    The history of mankind has shown that people will always need other people, physically not digitally, to progress and survive.

    Oddly, I was taught listening skills in college while taking acting classes back in 1994, and it was the best class I had ever taken.
  • thumb
    Aug 2 2011: With real listening the possibility is opened for true understanding and then communication. An ancient Sufi saying is that if you really understand another you will agree. While this seems counter intuitive upon consideration we can at least understand why someone has adopted their position. One study I read long ago of successful balanced people sought a common denominator and finally found that the one most important factor was the quality of discussion at the dinner table!
  • Aug 1 2011: I will always be thankful to Bonnie Stulken for teaching me how to listen to music. We learned the sounds the instruments make, where they sit in a symphonic orchestra and how melodies and sub-melodies move. She taught me to listen and I am eternally greatful. Yes, we should teach people how to listen in school. It might change the world.
    • Aug 2 2011: True, sir, it might. As a teacher, I am pledging to weave listening skills into my curriculum in hopes that my students will have those skills when they are necessary. Thank you for sharing.
    • thumb
      Aug 4 2011: Michael M, I was hoping someone would include teaching how to listen to music as one way to teach listening. As a parent I read that a child's ability to pitch is formed before the age of three so this formed an intent for me: an intent to find a pitch teacher for people under three. Impossible? Intent is a great fillter. While my entire working like was in producing radio and entertainment (music) TV, I never did see such a wonderful, intense, communicator at work as this person teaching the very young to listen to her perfect pitch then repeat the sound in the same perfect pitch.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: If you want kids to listen then be interesting. Deviate from the staid curriculum and testing and go with what turns kids on. Be flexible, don't shy away from the dicey issues - in fact, the closer to the edge of "acceptability" in the classroom, the better.

    Tell stories and discuss them.

    Take a leaf from TED's giant book and fling opinions. Stir the kids up and get them THINKING, then they'll listen.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: if we could not listen, what could we learn?
    • Aug 1 2011: Well said, Joseph. Thank you.
  • Jul 31 2011: A creative mind works best when its at its pace and in its own world. To understand this, it is extremely important to have a continuous thought working in and around the person. How this can be developed?? A simplified way of doing it is through finding creativity and innovation from things happening in and around you.
    Second, through a creative thought process inculcated by oneself. It is best seen that if things developed from start yields great in future. Nothing can develop best than practicing from a tender age of 10 years when children are flourishing with ideas and with a great amount of support from Teachers.
    Like every thing has its pros and cons, It being a new and innovative field of study would surely require a great guidance. As anything and everything should not be taken up for consideration of students. A meticulously designed curriculum needs to be in place for the teachers too.
    • Aug 1 2011: I love what you say about the curriculum for teachers, how true!! In nursing there is a lot of attention in the hospitals that excel in the idea that the nurse must first care for themselves to care for others. Same concept applies for teachers, maybe before saying do this and this with the children - do so with the teachers and get them excited to do things that quiet the mind clutter with the children!!! Of course not everyone will be excited but it sure would hit home for some hearts!!
  • Jul 31 2011: Learning requires real attentiveness. All day, all around me, I see people who are not attentive, who are not really present. conversations are interrupted by phone calls, by by the compulsive checking of emails. We eat watching television, we drive while texting. How many people do you see in a day walking while looking at some device in their hand? It feels like everyone is somewhere else, rather than in the here and now. Listening requires focus and engagement. Real listening results not only in the acquisition of new knowledge, but in gaining some perspective of the speaker, which is absolutely necessary to mediation. I agree wholeheartedly that listening is a skill that should be taught;that we need to stop and listen in order to process ideas.
    • Jul 31 2011: Well said, Claire. Thank you for your response. All those things are true. I do feel that young people need to learn how to multi-task in order to function in a fast paced, busy society, and technology is also important for growth. However, none of those things should impede the necessity to recognize when it is time to shut everything down and listen, to be attentive and empathetic and (as you so wonderfully put it) present.

      Thank you.
  • thumb

    jag .

    • +1
    Jul 30 2011: It increases the enjoyment of the moment. I think that if school kids listened to silence for 3 mins a day (as said in Julians talk), this would definitely help kids be more relaxed, especially the kids who have 'ADHD'.

    It could be implemented quite quickly and easily into the curriculum as its only a small thing, if someone with the power knows about this.
    • Jul 31 2011: I have ADHD and I can tell you it is really difficult to sit in silence for 3 minutes. But, as you said, it does help me calm down and gives me opportunity to "check myself" and focus more clearly.

      Thank you for sharing.
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2011: Julian Treasure indeed proposed an excellent question. Our youths today are constantly bombarded and thus distracted by noise. This is consequently caused their attention span to shorten and created the supposedly "ADHD" problem in most youths all over the world. I'm from Singapore and this is true here. I believe that if we can teaching our children in schools to listen, they would understand the subjects better and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and issues in class, creating a more dynamic and interactive classroom. What do you think?
  • Aug 27 2011: Julian showed a list of seven filters which impact our ability to really hear what another says: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions. I think that when I respect a person, I value them, and I want to understand what they are saying, and so I engage in active listening. When I want to be understood, then I wait, with varying degrees of impatience, for them to finish so I can have my say. In this case I rarely really understand them because I have already judged their comments to be less valuable than mine. It seems to me that listening is dependent on our respect for the other person, on how we perceive our relationship with the other person.

    As Linda mentioned in an earlier comment, children seem to listen better to a teacher if they sense the teacher cares about them. The listening positions Julian mentioned in his Step 4 includes being critical or empathetic listening. Empathy is the element we emphasize when we address bullying, it is something children are very weak in, but is difficult to teach in school, and I think is most effectively taught at home. How does someone else feel, why do they think the way they do? I think we have to care about that before we are willing to invest the time in trying to listen to them so we can understand what they are saying.
  • Aug 25 2011: A little paradox occured to me.
    How are you going to teach students to listen if they aren't listening?
  • Aug 24 2011: First of all my english is not that great.

    It .sounds nice and is definately is a corner-stone that stands at the base of connection and beeing human with each other. But before it was explained, it was viewed as a quality and if we look a litlle bit around us we see that it remained the same in the context presented in the video We need that ability to be taught to our children but not in an institution for children, because if it is to function that way as a positive it must be taught along with a few other cornerstones that build up such a humanly view of life.

    There are many variables and going into talks about efficient lecturing from the teachers and their capacities to do so( or other ones) would seem as a lack of courage, before careful consideration, so i won`t go into them.

    We see traits in different cultures that were nursered by generations before they became a specific/common tipe of behaviour. Aplly the project onto educating that class of age that it is most likely to be open-minded and, hopefuly, the next in line to procreate. That would be good start.
  • Aug 24 2011: Listening classes should be provided but not during school. After or before would be better. Only the people who are serious about learning would attend. Responsibility.
  • thumb
    Aug 22 2011: LIstening is considered as one of the most important quality of human's behavior. People with good listening skills often understand more and therefore might be more aware to the things around them. But the truth is, as what Julian has said, we only obtain 25% from what we have heard. So, it is very essential that critical listening is being taught since early education begins, so that one has the capability to develop a habit as a good listener in the future which might make him a person with a good quality of understanding too. Good listener in my context is not such as eavesdropping into other people's conversations and gossiping. But it is more about critical listening in order to pinpoint the important features from what the others have said, therefore contributing the best solution through comprehending from your listening. If most of people have developed this kind of standard as early as juvenile years, it would be beneficial for them when they reach their adolescent years and later on. They might be more competent in problem-solving.

    Hope that sparks some thoughts on this topic. Cheers!

  • thumb
    Aug 22 2011: My mother runs a daycare out of our home, and probably the biggest challenge with the children is their listening skills. You can tell them something and they simply will not have any idea of what you had said a minute before. Perhaps they are just rude, but I doubt it, they most likely haven't acquired a good listening skill yet.
    Listening is a skill; an art. It is so valuable, that human life depends on it. Children should be taught proper listening skills in pre-school and kindergarten. Not only will this help them academically, but socially as well. Listening is clearly associated with problem solving and being able to retain knowledge.
    Everybody needs to know how to listen. In a world crisis, which is quite possible, people will need to be able to listen and understand simple commands like "quiet"! An 8 year old child should know to listen to adults, because one day, if their country is being invaded, or life is being threatened; when somebody puts their forefinger to their lips and says "shhhhhh" you need to listen or else you and everybody else is dead. Listening is a vital and effective defensive mechanism.
    • thumb
      Aug 23 2011: I agree with your first two paragraphs. However, I think listening first needs to be learned AT HOME....but to be honest,parents often do not really listen to their children as they are too busy to stop what they are doing to look their child in the eye and listen to them'; or they are too busy multi-tasking and then really just hearing them. Howeverf, this "listening problem" has been around for decades and maybe even centuries, but now I think more and more parents (and any relatives in the family, really), are not always listening to each other due to technology. And to answer the OP's question, yes, we should teach listening or continue to teach it in school, but unless it it reinforced in the home, it iwould be for nothing.

      Now in regards to your last paragraph... isn't that a bit dramatic???? YIKES!!!!
      • thumb
        Aug 23 2011: I agree that it does need to be taught at home as well; and it seems as though parents aren't facing that responsibility. As far as the last paragraph, it could be written into a screenplay :] however it is quite likely that something quite like that could happen. I mean, look at history. Had children not been strong enough or had the skills to survive, far more people would have died in the Holocaust, Israeli Conflict, Genocides in Sudan. Listening is a survival skill.
  • thumb
    Aug 18 2011: it can not be just listening that has to be understood what was it for it is more important than a sensory process
  • Aug 14 2011: I'm not sure how or if listening should be taught in schools...

    But if it should, then to balance the equation i think teachers should also be far more proficient in speaking. In terms of how to best deliver information, rather than simply speak or regurgitate it. And how to best engage students with that information.

    I do not work with teachers or know how they are trained or recruited, and of course i'm sure this skill is already recognised to an extent. But from my past experience as a student in the UK (good and bad) i don't think it is given anywhere near the degree of emphasis that it aught to. A teachers expertise within a subject are near useless to a student without this skill, it should be explored and focused upon far more in teaching... and for that matter anyone with knowledge worth sharing.
  • Aug 14 2011: Hi

    I suggest we teach listening at home before school. Listening skills should be incorporated within the family institution primarily and then practiced at school as secondary. Somehow we place emphasis on schools and less in home education and behavior.

  • thumb
    Aug 13 2011: Great question, Jason!

    Let me keep it short; the reactions below pretty much said a great part of what I wanted to say. Teaching how to listen is one thing; it's teaching how to react to what someone has to say that really takes it to the next level.

    In my last year of my Bachelor Studies in Applied Linguistics, I had a class called 'Professional Communication'. I expected it to be on proper language use, etiquette and correct manners, but the entire class was built around listening and reacting to one another. I learned in a few hours per week how easy it is to avoid misunderstandings, and build a better relationship with someone, just by taking the time to take in what that person has to say, and respond to that correspondingly.

    What really helps is to use the 'interpersonal circumplex', or 'Leary's circumplex'. (Details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_Circumplex)
  • thumb
    Aug 11 2011: Why should listening be taught as a skill in school? That is a very interesting question.

    We all bring our own level of understanding to the party. Kids are no different, once they start interacting with their community.

    Each of us has been molded over time by our own personal experiences. My ability to listen to a person can be perceived as hearing by one, and if someone is in agreement, then that person may think that I am brilliant and truly listening, where as the other perceives me differently.

    As a collective body, what is listening – if we knew that answer, could we change the problems our countries are facing now, with war, financial ruin, and famine, as well as domination over another because of cultural beliefs or other reasons?

    I think that we all have the innate ability to listen, but it is biased by internal and external forces that teachers may or may not be equipped to deal with.

    If I made the comment “I see Red” one group of people may hear that I am angry, another may take the statement more literally as I am seeing the color red.

    The truth was that I saw a person named Red.

    Granted this is an over simplification, but we all have our own base line on what listening means to us. Again, will a school teacher have the skills to know the difference and the ability to transfer that knowledge effectively to a young mind?

    I think the 1st step in listening is an open mind and the ability to accept a difference of opinion, especially as to how we all “listen” as a skill. Then we need to accept that we all have our own set of filters, and actively communicate our own understanding and seek confirming data points.

    But, then again, did I hear the question correctly as I read it out loud? ;0)
  • thumb
    Aug 11 2011: Hey,

    I think this is a good question and as a lecturer I feel I can relate a little.

    Too many people (and my students) perhaps assume that hearing and listening are one and the same, but they are different. However the challenge is to integrate this basic sense into a sense of engagement an communication. Furthermore, if someone doesn't won't to listen, they won't, sadly. Maybe if this skill was taught early on, it would make a difference.

    ...i think I know what i'm trying to say :- /

    • Aug 11 2011: I think we do Martin, thanks.
  • thumb
    Aug 10 2011: I am not sure if it is strong enough to save the planet by itself but surely will help us. First of all high quality listening will increase the efficiency of information transfers. On the other hand as we learn to listen properly it would be easier for us to understand each other and lots of troubles that are caused by lost in translation will disappear.
  • thumb
    Aug 10 2011: Simply, everyone knows how to listen, but only a few knows how to listen 'properly'. So, the speaker wants to teach people listen properly so that they can understand each others better. This is my opinion.
  • thumb
    Aug 10 2011: Listening should be taught at school since this is the basic way that we communicate in. I feel bad seeing families engrossed in entertaining themselves with visual tools like the TV, computers and other gadgets more than being entertained with a conversation they have with a friend, family member or a child.

    Everyone has seen what I am about to describe: a group of people arrive at a place together yet would withdraw into a bubble of personal space using gadgets or means of communication like the mobile phone. The beauty of sentences are being replaced with uh-huhs, totally! Yah... and hand signals like the 'L' for loser. Concise is to the Internet and the TED talk limit or the speech you have to give on graduation- but not to your family or the ones you love.

    When I was a child we were taught to speak our minds with respect and a cool head and with eye contact. THis was a sign that you are communicating and that you would do the same when it's their turn. Communication not only meant listening then, it was understanding and respect for the one speaking.

    Teaching listening is teaching the proper way of communicating and empowering children to share their thoughts without judgement to others around them. If a person looks into your eyes while you speak you have the confidence that the person is listening. Inattention and shutting kids up make them keep to themselves and cut-off their confidence.

    Listening is also a huge part in making a living, just imagine if you got instructions always wrong because you don't listen.

    Teaching listening will help kids a whole lot in their futures. I could go on and on...
  • Aug 9 2011: good evening respective elders. . i want say only few words.Now a days a student will grownup with extradinory communication skills ..if a student will become powerful in his/her thaughts he/her must be able to have understanding ability. . good listening is more important than knowledge.suppose a student don't know anything if he having understanding ability then he must be succed in life.so LISTENING is more valuble thing.
  • Aug 9 2011: It's a great idea and one that good teachers and systems have incorporated, together with thinking skills

    (eg De Bono's 6 Hats), for decades.

    However you must assess students' individual physical hearing capabilities

    and teach accordingly, using appropriate strategies for each child's individual needs.
  • Aug 7 2011: In today‘s world,so many people lose thier skill of listening and especially child. They even don't know what is the really listening. It's about respect to others. so my answer is agree. we should do it
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2011: Jason,

    Thank you for your comments

    Patrick McCarthy
    New Zealand
  • Aug 6 2011: Human being have been organised by several funtions like eyes , nose , mouth and ears as well . And İ think the most important skill is the listening because of the several reasons . First reasons is reasoning that is if we want to understand and make some assumptions primarily we should listen and understand what the topic or conversation talk about . Second case why we should listen carefully is anatomy because humans and there are a lot of species , animals have 2 ears .This is an enough justification because if you have a mouth and 2 ears you should listen and understand something then you may generate correct solutions or inferences . Thereby listening lectures must be given by schools to the young pupils .
  • Comment deleted

  • thumb
    Aug 5 2011: Hi,Mr.Jason

    I think it should be taught in schools and stared from early childhood as writing,reading because it will help kids in their education after that,

    I am a medical student and I can't concentrate with the lecturer more than 15 minutes unless I have the textbook or a small note,
    It becomes a problem that we can't concentrate with listening only.

    so, it will be great for the new generations to train their ear to detect,analyse and understand voices accurately,
    one day there will be listening competitions !!!
  • thumb
    Aug 5 2011: To listen is to begin to contemplate, and to begin to comprehend. We cannot develop to their fullest the intellects of our school-age generation, if we don't equip them to pay attention, to sustain attention, to value the cognitive activity that comes with that, and to search for selfhood in the spaces where understanding blooms, not in the spaces where always-on, always reverberating light and magic tempt and taunt them.

    In other words, if we want a society of full citizens, we first need a society of whole persons, intellectually engaged by their dealings with the world, able to take in views—and wisdom—not born of their own play of mind, and accustomed to expanding their consciousness with the kind of insight that can only come with giving others the floor, allowing for an exchange of ideas, and most importantly, taking the time, demanding the inner quiet, necessary for understanding.

    We are all better, if we can hear what others are saying, if we can understand what they seek, if we can know that learning from others might allow us to do more good, to balance creative energies against the forces of entropy, and to collaborate, intelligently, with other human beings, in fashioning a world better suited to honoring the dignity inherent in every human mind.
  • thumb
    Aug 4 2011: Listening should definitely be taught as a skill. A person's success in business and in life will largely be tied to their ability to not only listen, but to hear. I recently authored a blog post on this topic and have provided the link below for those interested in a more in depth answer: http://www.n2growth.com/blog/the-power-of-listening
  • Aug 4 2011: I have to agree that effective listening is a skill, the mechanics of which can be taught in many settings. However, and this connects to a parallel TED conversation about "community", the heart of listening and its greatest source of value is in establishing and sustaining effective connections through which exchanges of all kinds can be accomplished. The narcissistic drive pervasive throughout so much of our culture has significantly diminished the value of meaningful, mutual exchange and with it the value of effective listening. It is imaginable that managers motivated to achieve outcomes for which they will be evaluated will find the techniques previously posted worthy of their attention and maybe they will be so bold as to apply them outside their world of work. However, before we advance the notion that school based training in listening skills will lead to improved outcomes of many types for many people, we will first need to culturally reestablish the importance of listening as something worth giving, not just receiving.
  • Aug 4 2011: A most interesting topic indeed. Those of you so involved in this discussion will, I believe, also appreciate an earlier TED.com presentation by John Francis:


    And then I remember a favorite lyrical line of mine, from THE KING AND I: The song "Getting to Know You" includes: "that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught. "
  • Aug 4 2011: I work at a non-profit organization in British Columbia, Canada and we have been teaching children in grades 3-6 communication skills. Active Listening skills are highlited throughout the curriculum and at the end of the 10 sessions, the children are much more emotionally aware, able to express their needs effectively, deal with peer pressure, bullying and other forms of everday conflict more independently. Feedback received over the past 6 years indicates that parents and siblings pick up the skills from the child participants, classroom cultures dramatically change and less time is spent on discipline/ettiquette which frees up time for additional learning. We have recently begun another program for newcomer children with varying ESL levels below 3 and the outcomes are amazing! The children are brought together outside their regular classrooms for experiential workshops covering many topics relevant to the children and conflict they face in their everyday lives. The children begin to understand what is expected of them at school, how to effectively communicate with teachers, administrators and peers and generally have a much easier time adjusting to their new environment. The benefits are clear - listening is an essential skill for everyone.
  • thumb
    Aug 4 2011: I believe that many teachers do work with students on listening. A tip like noting on paper ones reactions and questions so that one doesn't block out the whole rest of the lecture for fear of forgetting them is an example.

    Asking students to work in pairs and report out of the pairs, not knowing which the teacher will ask to speak, is another way teachers create an environment in which students need to listen to each other.

    Teachers can and do help cultivate in students the habit of listening by not cluttering the "air time" with torrents of rambling content that are not on point of the subject they are teaching. They also help cultivate in children a habit of listening by realizing that kids cannot only listen but need also to interact with the material in multiple ways over the course of a class period. Asking young kids to sit still and listen for over-long periods of time sets them up for failure in listening.
  • thumb
    Aug 3 2011: I liked the talk by Julian Treasure on listening that this conversation references.

    All teachers would help themselves by taking time at the begining of each school year to "exercise" listening skills as Julian outlines. Then to re-vist them at points throughout the school year. If nothing else, it would sensitize students to the fact that there IS a skill to listening and it directly effects how well you learn. You might be remembered as a teacher for communicating that fact to your students long after they have forgotten math principles or who shot President Lincoln. Come to think of it, teach them to listen better and maybe they won't forget!!!

    I teach music and theatre and think I will spend some time putting together some games to teach this skill. Thanks, Jason!
    • Aug 3 2011: You're welcome, Jim. Let me know how the lessons work out. Maybe we can swap lesson plans. Thank you for your insight.
  • thumb
    Aug 3 2011: There is no more important tool to have when learning than listening skills.

    It IS a tool and so many of us really don't know how to use it. Actually, what most people don't know is that there are degrees of listening. How often have you heard someone referred to as a "good listener"? When you do attribute good listening to someone you are paying them a high compliment.
    Still, the question is how do you teach good listening skills? Like so much else, I think the best way is to watch someone who does it well. For example, Dr. Phil happens to be a great listener.I wonder what the earmarks are of a good listener or best practices for "listening to learn"?
  • Aug 2 2011: Teaching listening and communication in schools is an excellent idea. There are some very simple techniques. I model them teach them to my daughter who is 5. Of course, I do it on a level that is age appropriate.

    The simplest technique is to paraphrase what the speaker says. We can paraphrase facts and/or paraphrase their overall emotional tone. Paraphrasing lets the speaker know, in no uncertain terms, that you understand them. If you just say, "I understand," you might understand or you might have misunderstood. It's ambiguous. However, it's impossible to correctly paraphrase their meaning without understanding. If you have misunderstood, then the speaker can clarify. If the listener is uncertain, they can ask for clarification. This is usually called "active listening" or "reflective listening."

    This is not only effective for professional or educational interactions, but for personal life. The majority of conflicts can be reduced or resolved by effective communication.
  • thumb
    Aug 2 2011: "listening" i think is the most important aspect of learning, and it should be taught at school. I remember one of my friend, had to write an English , IELTS exam and there he was unable to understand the slang of the speaker which ultimately led to his failure in the exam..
  • thumb
    Aug 2 2011: communication is a two-way activity, listening and speaking. One can never be effective in any field if he hasn't learned how to listen.
  • Aug 2 2011: It is politically unpalatable. Too many think listening is an innate skill that does not need to be taught. You might as well teach breathing. Plus suddenly all those tone deaf kids will be labeled as impaired. Listening improves your social skills and awareness but it does nothing for knowledge. I don't think parents will accept it in an already busy school schedule.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: That's in fact what any language teacher is supposed to do, teach how to scan and screen what you hear that sounds so alien to most students. In recent years, I have found that my senior high school students talk better and better, but mostly to speak their mind and not to actually communicate, and as a result they find understanding a foreign languages more an more difficult. As for me, I have chosen to introduce Julian Treasure's previous talks as topical and linguistic materials, so this new one will be the start of my next school year for all my classes. This year's experience has really raised awareness on good/bad sound and the ways of listening, so that's a real good start.
    • Aug 2 2011: Some excellent points made, Elisabeth. Thank you for sharing. Good luck with your school year. Mine begins soon.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: It is very important to teach listening skills in schools.Most of the problems people face in their relationships are due to defective listening.Listening connects people and help them to understand one another.Children bloom when they are listened to.Alistener is a magnetic personality.He is more effective than a speaker.People get drawn towards a person who listens in a non judgemental way and do not advise.World will be a better place to live if we really start listening.
    • Aug 2 2011: Well said, Chaya. I have seen many relationships crumble because neither party is good at listening to one another. And I agree that the world would be a better place. Thank you for your insight.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2011: If we were to teach listening in school, how would we even go about it? Take a class on how to listen?? To me, it sounds unrealistic and difficult to teach to young kids in our technological age with so many different learning styles. However, learning the gift and purpose of listening could greatly enrich the quality of life and depth of relationships. Personally, I think it is something that must be taught and learned through the parents or mentors in a child's life. Obviously that may be difficult for many.
    • thumb
      Aug 1 2011: Listening is a skill, like any other, and it can be taught (I know, I teach it as part of a corporate training program I developed for Chinese business people.)

      There are lots of "techniques" that are simple to teach, learn, and use. You can find most of them with a google search.

      One simple technique is to simply listen with the intent to understand and then repeat back, in your own words, what you think the other person has said. You do this until the person you are listening to is satisfied that you really understand them.

      For example, what I hear you saying is:

      You are questioning how we would even teach listening and you think it is too difficult to teach young kids how to listen because they have different learning styles and have been affected by the prevalence of technology. You do see that learning to listen would contribute to the quality of life and the depth of relationships and you think that the skill should be taught by parents or mentors even though that might be difficult for some of them ... presumably because they do not know how to listen well themselves.

      Is that correct?

      EDIT: And to answer the question: "Why should listening be taught as a skill in school?"

      Because it is one of the most useful skills in the world with absolutely huge payoffs in terms of social integration, productivity, creativity, enjoyment, and so on.

      There is an old Turkish proverb that goes: "If speaking is silver, then listening is gold."

      And to quote Julian Treasure: "Conscious listening creates understanding."
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Aug 1 2011: In 2000 characters? .... Hmmmm.

          Well, let's see ...

          It's based on the notion that all "excellent" management practices that we read about were developed by managers (and leaders) before the excellent management books we all read were written.

          It's based on the idea that, assuming a moderate level of competence, all leaders and managers in all companies have the skill and ability to provide all of the leadership and management their company needs - they are the experts when it comes to their company.

          We acknowledge there are certain obstacles when it comes to accessing and implementing their skill, understanding and expertise and by identifying those obstacles and by learning the requisite skills they can tap into their own potential.

          One of those skills is listening.

          The program lasts three months; the first month is spent doing research; the subsequent two months are spent on skill development that target the client's stated needs and objectives.

          I have developed a series of training modules from Collaborative Communication, to Strategic Planning; and from Eastern and Western Style Thinking to developing an organization system (think Day-timer, David Allen's "Getting Things Done" with Covey and Merrills' "First Things First" ... on steroids.)

          We select the appropriate modules based on the research we do and on the client's direct input.

          In many cases, we provide them with the information they need and they teach it to themselves (teaching is the best way of learning.) What that looks like is we train the managers to be trainers.

          The program is designed to instill the habit of lifelong learning and teaching.

          There is more to it than that.

          In one company, when we arrived the managers would not even sit in the same room as one another (one woman actually got into a fist fight with a coworker); when we left, they were collaborating on shared goals and a common vision.
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Aug 1 2011: QUOTE: "How is "excellence" evaluated and determined..."

          Excellence is measured against stated performance outcomes.

          QUOTE: "...what would you recommend for all the leaders of the world, especially the ones who possess the power to wage or end wars?"

          I would recommend they place life ahead of ideology.

          And, when it comes to listening, particularly at that level, Covey said it best when he said:

          “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is key to effective interpersonal communication.”
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2011: Thomas: “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is key to effective interpersonal communication.” -Steven Covey

          There is more meaning packed into that single sentence than in many books, training/education programs and/or courses on the subject of interpersonal skills. Thanks for sharing that with us!

          But the important thing is how, as a teacher, you teach that ability to understand and be understood. There are degrees to understanding someone and being understood by someone. To be clear: I think that, on a scale of 1-10 with "10" being the most highly skilled/developed, most people seek to understand others at about a "3". Most seek to be understood by people at about a "6" . I think this is particularly true when the issues being discussed/communicated are highly important. For example Israeli-Palistinian talks. Each side tried very hard to make itserlf understood, but neither side seems to want to put the effort into understanding.

          Wouldn't it be great if most people were at an 8+ for both?!?!?
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2011: Then there's the old classroom conundrum - How do you teach a person to listen if they won't listen?
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2011: Hi Jim,

          Yes, the quote of Covey's is wonderful, isn't it? It is so complete: Seek first to understand, THEN to be understood. It's got "both sides" covered.

          How do we teach listening to a person who won't listen?

          I think Bob Van Oosterhout covers that in a recent post: modelling.

          Demonstrate the behaviour we would like to teach.

          I have noticed that, very often, people WILL NOT listen until they feel they have been heard.

          I believe we are committed to "being heard" and, until we are, we will not deflect any energy away from delivering our message (and do something "secondary" like, say ... listening.)

          I notice it in myself. It feels almost reflexive. I have to make an effort to NOT listen to "me" - my thoughts, my ideas, my opinions - which I am certain are "excellent!" I have to let go of the urgency I feel to deliver "my" message and actually make the effort to understand what the other person wants to say - what they want me to hear.

          It's a work in progress!

          QUOTE: "Wouldn't it be great if most people were at an 8+ for both?!?!?"

          Yes, it would.
      • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Aug 1 2011: I am talking about teaching children in school, not a "corporate training program in China."
        • thumb
          Aug 1 2011: Well, perhaps you might modify what is being taught in corporate training programs in China to accommodate your particular teaching situation.
        • thumb
          Aug 2 2011: Katie please take a look at the listening exercises I suggest in my blog (http://juliantreasure.blogspot.com/) and subsequent post about improv with suggestions from Huw Morris. Listening is part of being human; we can engage children by making it fun for them to rediscover this lost part of themselves. And this is reciprocal: adults need to start listening properly to children too!
      • thumb
        Aug 5 2011: Hi Thomas , thank you for what you said about listening. Just out of curious, how do you get people committed to actually "do" the listening? I often think...we know enough about a "problem" but still not be able to make a change.
        • thumb
          Aug 5 2011: Hi Amily,

          It's an interesting question.

          I don't actually get anybody to do anything. I find out what they would like to do and, if I can help them, I do.

          Most people would like to be more effective, to have fewer conflicts, to be able to resolve the conflicts they do have more easily, be more productive, and so on.

          If they think listening will help them do those things, they get themselves to do it ... I just provide some coaching and present certain scenarios so they can practice in a safe environment.

          Listening is only one of the skills I teach. Sometimes people would rather do other things - say strategic planning, or learn organizational skills, and so on.

          By the way, as important as they are, the skills are not the most important thing I teach ... built into the training is the process of self-directed learning. The training, which lasts three months, is designed to make learning a habit.
    • thumb
      Aug 4 2011: Katie: You might like to look at a book called "From Cognition to Being: Prolegomena for Teachers" (Univ of Ottawa Press, 1999). It deepens the philosophical basis for the ideas in Julian's talk as they apply to teaching and learning, and adds a few of the exercises I've used in high school classes to resensitize listening. (If the early chapters are hard going, skip to chapter 7.) I'm eager to engage with teachers who want to renew the ground we stand on with students.
    • Aug 4 2011: I teach a speech class for high school students. We spend almost two weeks talking about and practicing different listening strategies. It is quite easy to start any class using some simple warm up listening activities. The great thing is these activites can be tied into the curriculum you're working on.
    • thumb
      Aug 5 2011: Listening and all the facets this encompasses is a skill like any other. The explicit teaching of listening can be embedded in so many areas of curriculum. The fact that young people are connected more and more through technology means this skills is even more vital to teach them. And yes, parents are an important part of the process, but so are peers.
  • Aug 1 2011: With children you have to teach listening in a creative way. With most children I believe meditation must be creative as well and could be an amazing thing if performed in schools from kindergarten on.

    I have a book on guided imagery for children (by Sarah Berkovits). What if teachers were taught how to use guided imagery to quiet the classroom on a 'time in' experiment?
  • Jul 31 2011: Our kids live in the world we have subsequently created which now includes visuals. Bring visuals together with listening and you have their attention. Stand up and lecture and you represent the dinosaur. It is not a listening skill question, it is realising that our kids can multi task and input audio and visual. If you only give them a listening "Julian Treasure" lecture, they will rightfully groan!!! (: We moved on from monotone input in the 1990ies.
    • Jul 31 2011: I don't disagree with you, Anthony, and kids learn even better when they "do" rather than just "see" or even just "listen". But the listening I'm talking about is attention and retention. Young people need to learn how to know when attention is necessary, regardless of the medium. If you teach your own children a lesson and they tune you out or ignore most of what you say, what value was the lesson to begin with? By your conclusion, kids will not learn anything unless there are visuals involved. That means there would be no value in students attending lectures from Holocaust survivors, war veterans, senior citizens, because they will not retain any of it. Well, history will repeat itself, then, because kids will be too busy wondering, "Where's the visual?" to learn any kind of important life lesson. That also means when kids face the competitive adult world, they will fail because they will never be able to sit through a single meeting and actually retain what they hear. Just as I don't think you truly "listened" to Julian's lecture. "Listening", as in truly noting what is said and making meaning of it is necessary for mediation and problem solving.
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2011: There is a great divide between listening and hearing. Hearing in my mind takes in the sounds but applies no thinking to them. Listening takes in the sound and applies thinking to them is the way I define it. We need to teach listening to all students from pre-school to college in my opinion. Maybe programs that reward listening with intrinsic and extrinsic rewards? Listening also requires relevancy to the listener. As a teacher I strive to make my lesson relevant to the students. In English I show how good writing skills and listening makes for better future employment and more income. In math I show how math will be used in later life to balance a check book or run a business.
    Science is a spring board for new ideas and if we do not listen we might literally reinvent the wheel. Social Studies help us understand today's issues like why the Feds have to borrow money from other countries and why their parent have to pay taxes and why they will have to pay taxes. Music is listening taken to a new form of concentration and Art is listening with the heart, Drama tells the story of the human condition and sometimes the answers can be relevant to today. Make listening relevant to the students and show them how it will help them reach their goals and they will listen has been my experience
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2011: The lack of white noise is one of the first things students on my Outdoor Experiential classes comment upon; they get away from the city and are amazed how little background noise there is and subsequently how far other sounds carry in its absence. In fact, this lack of constant 'hum' can be disconcerting to ears that are not used to it. Many students comment that they have trouble falling asleep in their tents the first night because of the overwhelming silence..
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2011: Do our current schooling system itself has got enough listening capability?
    Need to get this answer first........ so many discussion around here already in TED on current schooling system, how much of those were listened........?
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2011: I think it would be hard to isolate children in school from the noise and distractions of our current fast-paced hectic and scatterbrained world ... but I do believe we all need to slow down, take a deep breath and stop being in such a hurry. And it's entirely possible that training kids to be attentive, to be patient and not be in such a rush could very well disadvantage them in a work culture that expects people to run around like headless chickens.