This Delta Notes series has come about because I am packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and have found my Delta notebooks. I don’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I’m interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! I will also add some reflections at the end of each set of notes. Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)
Here are some of my (written up) notes from a module 2 input session on teaching listening, followed by some reflections/ramblings and a short list of recommended reading:
- often under-valued
- often back-burned in favour of speaking and writing (as they are more tangible)
- often seen as ‘passive’ (due to widespread use of the comprehension approach)
- Learners need to be able to listen and understand in order to speak.
- Learners with good listening skills can take better advantage of the multitude of linguistic input available (especially in an English-speaking environment) and so listening better equips learners to learn autonomously.
The Comprehension Approach
This consists of:
- Establish context
- Create motivation
- Pre-teach vocabulary
- General questions on context/attitude of speakers
- Functional language
- Infer meaning of unknown vocabulary
- Look at transcript
It is a robust methodology, still featuring strongly since it became popular in the late 80s.
Need to bear in mind:
- The more we tell learners before they listen, the less they need to listen.
- Wrong answers could be a reading or writing (of the questions or answers) failure rather than a listening failure.
Listening teaching practice was probably transferred across from reading teaching practice (listening dedicated lessons came after reading-focussed lessons).
- A reader benefits from a standardised spelling system and gaps between words on the page, while a listener must cope with speech sounds which vary from one utterance to another and words which blend into one another (because of phonology/position of articulators)
- Reading is recursive – you can look back and forth over what you have read, while listening is transient – the information unfolds in real time and you can’t look back over it again.
- Both require use of meaning-building processes BUT speech is temporary: the listener must carry forward memory of what has gone before to make sense of what comes next.
Conventional listening does not develop learners’ listening skills/competence in any systematic way. Progress just means harder texts: barriers are raised but learners are not shown how to get over them. After a given point of difficulty, learners may switch off in belief of their incapability.
It is important to note that right answers do not necessary equal understanding:
- it could be a guess
- it could be use of test-wise strategies
- it could be identification of an isolated point but no overall understanding of the speaker’s message
Furthermore, an “incorrect” answer might be supported by textual evidence that the listener has noted but the teacher and/or writer has overlooked.
The comprehension approach is very teacher-centred: The teacher intervenes too much, learners tend to be isolated and the whole process is more like a test than a learning process. This can be helped by doing jigsaw listening or by having learners check their answers in pairs prior to eliciting answers. Especially if you play the recording, allow learners to check in pairs, play the recording again, allow learners to check again and then elicit answers.
Another thing to bear in mind is: If one learner gets the right answer, what about the rest? Have they also understood?
A listener needs to:
- Select a listening type that is appropriate to input and task. Goals and types of listening are closely linked. One might listen and respond, listen and challenge, listen and negotiate, locate and retain main points, monitor for one item (e.g. a train time or news of a particular road in a traffic bulletin), listen for interesting items (e.g. in a news bulletin) etc.
Listening varies along a spectrum from expeditious to careful and from local to global.
According to this approach, listening is a process not a product.
We have decoding processes:
- Turning the stream of speech into sounds, then syllables, then words, then sentences
And we have meaning-building processes:
- Using background knowledge, contextual knowledge and co-textual knowledge to help us make sense of what we hear.
These processes interact rather than working in isolation. For example, we use context to help with decoding as well as for global meaning.
Why don’t learners understand?
It could be lack of vocabulary, but it could also be that a known word is not recognized due to reduction, elision, assimilation or any other feature of connected speech. It could also be a problem of lexical segmentation e.g. instead of hearing catalogue, a learner might hear cat a log.
How can we help?
Using authentic materials can help learners become accustomed to the natural cadences of the target language. We can also help learners become more used to and better able to extrapolate meaning from partially understood utterances
Teaching listening strategies can also help learners to listen more effectively.
Drawing attention to the way words change, in terms of how they sound, in connected speech i.e. elisions and assimilations etc.
Reflections (or, my chance to waffle and reprocess what I’ve read and learnt 😉 ):
I learnt a lot about listening from doing my listening LSA: Reading Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom revolutionised my understanding of what’s involved in teaching listening (as opposed to merely testing it!). However, I think I possibly learnt at least as much again as a result of the materials development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT. This is because I discovered and then used theories from Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action, by Vandergrift and Goh to inform the materials I developed for assessment.
(As far as I can make out) Vandergrift and Goh argue that learners will be able to listen more effectively if they have greater control over the processes they use. As I understand it, developing learners’ metacognitive awareness of the cognitive processes they use in listening helps them become better able to select processes according to text type and task type. So we can help learners learn to plan, monitor and evaluate their listening, rather than just leaving them to listen haphazardly:
- As well as having learners check their answers in pairs (as mentioned in my notes above), we can encourage them to pinpoint where their difficulties were, evaluate the effectiveness of the listening processes they used (did they use their background knowledge, did they use the co-text, did they use the context, did they try and translate every word etc.) and plan for the next listen through.
- Before playing the recording, we can engage learners in discussion about the type of recording it is and what they can expect to hear: Different genres follow different predictable macro-scripts. Learners could then discuss what type of listening and what listening purposes match the genre in question. Of course we can also give them some information about the topic and encourage them to predict what kind of vocabulary and ideas might come up too. Reading something related to the topic prior to listening could also be useful.
- All of these activities contribute to schema activation and planning: Once schemata are activated, learners are better prepared to listen and have more chance of listening successfully, and if learners plan how to listen as well, they can subsequently monitor the processes they use as well as how effective these are, and then evaluate the effectiveness of their plans.
The transcript can be used, after listening for meaning and detail, to help learners identify the problems they had, to help them understand why they didn’t understand:
- They could circle words they didn’t manage to understand while listening and then use a list of prompts, e.g. “I heard the words but I couldn’t remember the meaning quickly enough”, to help them analyze their difficulties.
- Activities such as listening and marking pauses and/or stressed words can also be done using the transcript.
- Drawing learners’ attention to features of connected speech such as elision and assimilation can also be useful as learners often find it confusing when words sound so different as part of utterances compared to how they sound in isolation.
One thing I have noticed, since changing the way I teach listening, is that there is a tangible air of relief in the classroom when you allow learners to check their ideas together after they have listened. Listening stops being threatening because learners aren’t isolated and they know they aren’t about to be picked on when perhaps they aren’t confident of what they’ve heard. As learners are then more relaxed when they listen, they are likely to be able to hear more as anxiety and tension do not prevent them from focusing. Playing the recording again after learners have conferred before eliciting any answers is also useful as they can check what they have discussed and have the opportunity resolve any disagreements and plug any gaps.
Of course, like anything, you can’t do it ALL in one lesson. Over a course of lessons, however, the recording is your oyster…
In terms of the Delta, if you are doing a listening LSA:
- Do yourself a big favour and read Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom as a minimum. (He has several articles in the ELTJ as well – see below for examples). I’m biased but I’d say read Vandergrift and Goh as well, if you can: the theory is extremely interesting and it has lots of adaptable, useful, practical activities for you to try out in the classroom too. What I’ve alluded to is only the tip of the iceberg – both books contain such a wealth of valuable information and advice.
- Try new things out with your learners well in advance of your assessed lesson – you probably don’t want to be springing a whole bunch of new techniques on them all at once while being observed! Also, you yourself may need time to get the hang of using the new techniques effectively (experiment, collect evidence, reflect, fine tune…) This may seem obvious but on the other hand it also requires good time management and advance planning, which are easier said than done, especially under Delta pressure! 🙂
Further recommended reading:
So, if you’ve read the books I mentioned above and are looking for more material to get your teeth into, or you’ve read the above-mentioned books and are now looking for extra references to beef up your bibliography, or you just incredibly interested in the ins and outs of teaching listening, you might like to have a look at these:
Field, J. Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening ELTJ vol. 57/4 October 2003. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2003.
Field, J. Looking outwards, not inwards. in ELTJ vol 61/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2007.
Kemp, J. (2010) The Listening Log: Motivating autonomous learning in ELTJ vol. 64/4. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
Nation I.S.P, Newton J. Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking Routledge. 2009.