Active listening for a DOS or trainer is a key management skill. It allows you to build positive, more collaborative working relationships with all stakeholders, resolve conflict more easily, increase goodwill and garner valuable information about your school giving better decision-making tools.

Active listening is using all your senses, giving your full attention to helping the speaker feel heard and valued, it demonstrates respect and a willingness to take on board another persons ideas and thoughts. It’s a process through which you can learn more about what is happening in your school. People who feel heard are more likely to drop a complaint, contribute and participate than those whose negative feelings continue to build perhaps even exacerbated by a poor listening situation. Active listening leads to happier, more involved stakeholders and quality information about your school. It’s the foundation for an effective participative and collaborative working atmosphere.

Despite being high-value active listening can be quite hard work, it takes time, energy and a lot of concentration. If you are an active, problem-solving type of DOS, you might find it difficult to focus on the listening rather than finding immediate solutions for problems. At times it seems counter-intuitive to listen rather than to do, but keep in mind that it is the process of listening that is often more valuable than the actual outcomes or solutions. On the other hand, If you are a more laid back listener it can be a strain to actively listen, to engage, rather than be passive in the process.

Steps to great active listening:

Get Calm

Step back and breathe. You need to be mentally and physically calm and quiet to listen, you can’t do it if you are wound up or feeling attacked.  Calmness is catching too!  An anxious speaker will relax more quickly if you set a calm tone. Try to detach from emotionally engaging with the content. For example, if you feel the speaker is completely unreasonable, or highly personal focus your thinking on the process of listening rather than the ‘merits of the case’, try to close down your internal dialogue.

Don’t problem solve

Your goal is to listen and hear, not win the argument, be right or defend the school. Detach yourself from trying to allocate blame, find a solution or dismissing the issues as unimportant. There is no need for you to provide solutions, clarify misunderstandings or put things right within the listening process – these can be done later. Focus on listening and really hearing what is being said.  Most problems are greatly reduced or even disappear if the speaker feels they have been heard.

Don’t Judge

Avoid judgment.  You need an open mind to actively listen, to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, more experience or knowledge they suspend judgment, hold their criticism and avoid arguing

Make space

Find an empty room, create a comfortable space and turn your phone off.  If it’s feasible, offer to make a drink for the other person.  Take an attitude of them being the priority and deserving full respect.  Ask if they are comfortable and if they need anything. Tell admin to see that you are not interrupted.  Try to tune out all distractions. Ask permission to make notes as a just in case, so you don’t miss important points.

Choose your time

A lot of feedback is very immediate, situations can be rushed and time is short. However, if you feel a situation needs active listening it’s ok to defer the conversation.  Say “ What you are saying is very important and I really need to listen, but that is difficult at the moment, can we meet up at….”   Most people will appreciate your offer of full attention over an immediate, rapid response.

Show gratitude

Giving feedback can be stressful, people tend to brace themselves, plan and rehearse how they will say things and then have to wind themselves up to actually say what is on their mind.  As a listener acknowledge that they have trusted you enough to share their thoughts, say ‘thank you’ for the effort they are making. It is better for someone to tell you how they feel than to leave the school and tell everyone else!

Use wait time

Make time, be patient, it might be difficult for the speaker to talk about this so give them time, extend your wait time so they can form their thoughts into words, essential if you are not both working in your mother tongue.  As in the classroom, make the wait time a comfortable, easy space rather than you showing your impatience. Try not to:

  • anticipate the end of their sentences
  • rush or interrupt
  • ‘top up’ responses (adding your own information).
  • jumping in before they finish with your questions
  • thinking ahead about what you will say next
  • overuse fillers such as ‘indeed’
  • fiddle with pens or check your phone

Give the speaker your full attention

Interest can be shown through verbal and non-verbal messages.  Seat yourself so you can see the other person, maintain eye contact, nod your head, smile or make sympathetic faces.  Agree by simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘mmm’ to encourage them to continue.  Keep your body open, try not to cross your arms or legs, unclench fists.  Keep shoulders and arms loose, and lean in slightly toward the speaker.

Check your understanding

You need to find the balance between letting the speaker say what they need to, without interruption and checking that you have understood correctly.  The trick is not to jump in too quickly with clarification questions and when you do, keep it gentle and not take the tone of an interrogation!  You can check you have understood correctly by paraphrasing or repeating back the key elements.

At the end see if the speaker agrees with your summary. You can use language such as:

Tell me if I have got this right

Is this a fair summary?

 Closing down the conversation

After summarizing your understanding it can help, if it hasn’t already been covered, to ask the speaker what course of action they would like to be taken and if they have any suggestions as to how to improve the situation.

Thank the speaker for their time and for sharing with you.  Create a follow-up plan, which may be ‘I’ll get back to you when I have spoken to…’ or ‘let me have a think and get back to you after the weekend …’

 

Useful Links

https://www.ccl.org/multimedia/podcast/the-big-6-an-active-listening-skill-set/

https://leaderonomics.com/personal/making-people-feel-heard

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/rhubarb/dealing-with-complaints.html

 

 

 On starting out, many teachers struggle with eliciting.  The first issue is that they often Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 12.45.16believe it is quicker and more efficient just to tell learners the meaning, often regardless of the learners level! We push new teachers to ‘ask before tell’, and to be very wary of planning comments that start with the words: Explain, Inform or Tell. These words tend to lead to a teacher monologue with low learner engagement.

New teachers have learnt that they are supposed to elicit, to ask the learners questions, but lack the ‘how’ of it or its precise purpose.  They tend to ask learners to guess what the teacher is thinking, particularly in the area checking meaning. Consequently, quite a lot of early elicitation is slightly random, it can be repeating what the teacher says, only tenuously connected to the topic or often it becomes ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’.

Good elicitation is checking learner knowledge of language based on a developed, meaning rich context.  The context could be developed with pictures, gestures, realia, situation etc. However it is done, in an ideal world it will effectively demonstrate the meaning of the target language.  The context will be so clear that even if the learners can’t answer the elicitation questions they are able to use the context to develop their understanding of the language.  An experienced teacher will also be able to utilize the context to deepen, convey and check the learner’s grasp of the language. So, with a clear context the meaning is evident and it’s just the language the learners don’t have.

However, ‘guess what I am thinking’sometimes amounts to a psychic test for the learners! The teacher gives so few contextual clues that learners can start randomly guessing. Then, when the teacher does give the language they have little chance at grasping the meaning or how to use it.  A simple example below:

Scenario 1 – Guess what I am thinking

Teacher:       What is a small red fruit called?

Learner:        Strawberry

Teacher:       No, it’s smaller than a strawberry

Learner:        Plum?

Teacher:       No, it’s more like a strawberry

Learner         Orange? (Now guessing wildly and probably has no idea what a raspberry is)

Teacher:       No, the word I want is ‘raspberry’.

 

Scenario 2 – Elicitation for meaning

Teacher:       (Holds up a picture of a raspberry).  What’s this called?

Learner:        Don’t know

Teacher:       Raspberry

 

In scenario 2 the class have been engaged, the teacher knows if the learners have understood the meaning, and can also assess some of the learner’s ability to pronounce the word.

Tips for lesson observers

If your teacher is eliciting by ‘guess what I am thinking’ get them to write down the key meaning elements of the target language then ensure that all these elements are incorporated into the conveyance.

Note that experienced teachers have good wait time when eliciting and are able to give learners time to formulate responses, they don’t jump in with an answer too fast.

Very skilled teachers are also able to move past the first wave material they elicit from learners and bore down, pushing for more accuracy and a better understanding of what the learner does and doesn’t understand.

The best teachers are also able to incorporate what they elicit into the next stages of the lesson, using the elicited material as a reference point rather than just to acknowledge it and move on with their own prepared commentary.

Below are suggested commentary notes that can be adapted and used in written and oral feedback on the topic of elicitation.

Suggested Commentary Notes 

Positive comments Areas for development
It’s great to see you tie what you elicit to the next stage, which gives meaning and purpose to the elicitation. Your learners see that what they say has value and they have been heard which is very motivating You elicited the different language well but then needed to do something with the words in order to create purpose for the elicitation.
Its good to see you eliciting target language meaning, which is much more efficient than asking: What does X means? Work from meaning to word rather than asking questions like: What is a plaster?  Remember that to answer this type of question is difficult and doesn’t give the teacher very accurate information about the learners actual knowledge of the language.
Well done for establishing such a clear context from which you could elicit so much from and keep learners engaged. Create meaning rich contexts so that it is easier to elicit the target language. If learners don’t know the language you can use the context to convey the meaning.  It moves the activity from ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’ to being an effective assessment tool.
You were right to ignore the first wave of material you elicited and bore down for the sketchier knowledge, the place where the learners are less fluent and need input. Try to filter what you elicit more.  Learners tend to give the easy, well-known stuff first. Acknowledge the contributions but then bore down and challenge them so you can expand what they already know.
You have great wait time, which allows students the time they need to formulate language and respond to your questions. Try to increase your wait time to give learners much needed time to formulate their responses. Remember that at this level it is very hard to produce immediate responses to anything.

 

 

Take one stressed teacher, a fairly random group of learners, add a new person in the 500_F_34333839_nK1vFrLmpwZTTnhwhVp1txh2VpOm5AVjroom, perhaps a dash of technology and lesson mishaps shouldn’t really be a surprise.

I once observed a teacher spend 6 minutes doing a complex reseating task, where everyone moved but ended up sitting next to the same people!  The best bit was that everyone got the giggles as they realized what had happened.

No teacher ever gets every aspect of the lesson right every time.  As a lesson assessor, one way to deal is to look at how well the teacher reacts and recovers when things go wrong. Firstly note if they are aware there is a problem and then if they can respond rather than just keep pushing on.   Check if they can they reboot, adapt, modify a task on the spot or drop it if needed. This ability usually shows experience. It takes confidence and knowledge to quickly and even seamlessly adapt a task to a group, especially during a stressful observed lesson.  If you are watching a very good teacher you may need to refer to the plan to pick up adaptations.

Sometimes things have gone so far awry that adaptation is not going to work. In these cases can the teacher laugh an error off, or even keep going when all they really want to do is leave the room and have a good cry?  Recovery is a part of being flexible, responsive and professional, and therefore a skill to be highly valued. As an observer give weight to the ability to recover, at least equal to whatever caused the problem in the first place

For feedback below is suggested commentary – adapt at will!

Positive feedback comments Areas for development
Well done, for making such a smooth recovery. It’s normal in any class for things not to go quite to plan but you showed yourself to be flexible and able to deal with the unexpected It’s not the end of the world if things don’t go to plan and sometimes is ok to say ‘whoops’. Our learners don’t expect teachers to be perfect. Don’t focus on the problem, just move on and try something else.
I like that you didn’t get flustered when it all went off plan. Your sense of humor and patience really helped to keep things moving. If things go pear shaped try to slow down, sit down and reboot or just acknowledge it didn’t work and try the next task. Students are very forgiving and you can always come back to something in the next lesson.
You answered all the questions on the target language in an informed way. With that complex student question, I feel you were right to say that you would come back to her in the next lesson once you had checked it yourself. Much better to defer an answer than to give an inaccurate one The unexpected is always going to happen!  If you are not sure what to do or say just breathe and take some time to think how you will respond.  It’s ok to defer your response. It’s fine to say: I’ll deal with that later when I have checked the answer.

 

 

This feedback task works best with a group observation. Divide the observers into teams question markor pairs, including the teachers who taught.  Give the group 10 – 20 minutes to predict what you, the assessor, considered to be the top three positives and developmental points of each lesson.

The board is divided up equally so that each team has space to write their answers on it.  Decide yourself if you want to start or finish with the positives. A representative from each team writes up the top 3 points, ideally they should write at the same time as each other so they can’t modify their answers when they see the other responses!  The tutor checks through the comments for any clarification. At this point the board is covered in lesson feedback.

The tutor reads out their own three developmental points and the teams decide which team got closest to the assessors points and is therefore the ‘winner’. Repeat the process for the other points.

Generally a really useful discussion ensues which is a good time for you to explain how you reach your decisions and what are priorities in a lesson. This task is also a great tool for assessing where the group is and what they consider to be a priority.

We sometimes add an element of ‘spice’ by the ‘losers’ agreeing to provide the ‘winners’ with a small service, for example to make coffee in the morning, do some photocopying, or give extra support.

Teacher Talk

Teacher talk is just one of many elements of an ELT lesson assessment that is covered in the ELT lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook.  ‘Teacher talk’ in this article refers mainly to the time during which the teacher is talking to the whole group – informing, instructing or correcting.  In the book there is a different set of comments to cover the area of instruction giving, although there is of course a lot of crossover.

Reasons for the commentary

Observing a lesson can be a major multi- tasking/multi-skill challenge.  As an observer you need to:

  • be physically present but not engaged with the teacher or students
  • polite and mindful of the stress the teacher is under
  • make notes so you don’t forget key points
  • decode what you are observing in order to decide if there is developmental need or praise is deserved
  • prioritize developmental needs so as not to overwhelm the teacher
  • find constructive ways to give praise and suggest alternatives or ways to improve

The purpose of the notes below is to make the observers life a little easier. The idea is that you can cut and paste the comments or adapt them to each observation. Try adding in modifiers and emoji’s if this works for you.

 

Suggested observer commentary

Positive comments Areas for development
Your teacher talk is economical and well graded, so students understand what to do at all times

 

You use your voice range and gestures well to reinforce /clarify your meaning

 

You do a great job adapting your teacher talk to the needs of the task and the learners.  You use direct language and tone for instruction, and then more informal, natural (although well graded) language when in a more reactive role.

 

You have mastered the art of grading language for greater comprehension but keeping an adult-to-adult tone to your communications.

 

You have great wait time* for your learners and for yourself too. It takes confidence to slow down and actively plan your own output

 

Create clearer instructions and increase the time students are on task by reducing unnecessary and confusing teacher talk. This can be done by reducing the echo* or top up*

 

Rehearse, script and practice your classroom language in order to reduce unnecessary teacher talk and to create greater clarity in your management

 

Try to find a way of keeping language simple/graded while avoiding talking to adults as if they were children.  Expressions like ‘ok class, pay attention’and ‘look and listen to me’ can put off adult learners who are already feeling somewhat vulnerable because of their lack of language competence.

 

Breathe before you respond, take a little time to work out in your head exactly what you want to say before you speak – learners appreciate the space this technique creates

 

Try recording yourself in the future so you get a sense of where you can reduce any confusing extra teacher talk

 

 

*                Echo                        Repeating what the learners say

*                Top up                     Eliciting a satisfactory response but then adding in

additional, usually unnecessary information

*                Wait time             The time a teacher allows between a question/ comment and a

response. For example with lower levels learners need a

longer to produce a response to a question so rather than reformulate the question or repeat it a teacher can just gently wait a bit longer – wait time.  It’s generally a very positive attribute in a teacher, with newer teachers tending to jump in too quickly.

 

Teacher Talk Observer Commentary

Unnecessarily high teacher talk is the bane of most trainers on initial training courses. New teachers seem to equate talking at the front of the class with teaching and learning.  The fact that many of the learners have very low levels of listening comprehension seems to mean little to new teachers.

On initial training courses we take a two-prong approach at reducing high TT. The first is to explain about efficiency in meeting aims. Teacher talk is fine if it is meeting the aim of the activity. Hence, if the teacher’s aim is to set up a student task then the language needs to be graded, clear and economical.  Instruction wording should start with an imperative form and be supported with gesture/demonstration and checked where necessary.  However, the teacher’s language will change tone, and vocabulary base if they are working with a learner to untangle a lexis or grammar meaning issue, this becomes more of a dialogue although the teacher’s language still needs grading and checking.  Teacher language needs to efficiently meet the aim of what the teacher is trying to achieve at that point. However, to be fair many new teachers struggle to understand the aim of what they are doing but that is another article!

Another approach we use is to set out our expectation of the level of teacher talk we want based on the type of lesson, for example:

Lesson Type

Input skills (reading /listening)                     10 – 15%

Language (lexis or function)                          15 – 20%

Production (speaking or writing)                  10 – 15%

**The figures above came from polling many teacher trainers over many years.

For example in a 40 – minute lesson, if the plan shows T/S for 16 minutes, it means that there are 24 minutes left for individual, pair and group work. The teacher has planned to be at the front for 40% of the lesson, which should set-off the observers alarm bells.

High levels of teacher talk can lead to:

  • A slow pace
  • Lots of frustrating down time for learners (as the teacher is doing all the talking)
  • Learners not being on task leading to management issues with bored students
  • Confusion with learners not understanding everything the teacher is saying
  • Low levels of individual support from the teacher and a lack of collegial atmosphere
Tip for the lesson observer

 1               Check the teachers plan is labeled with accurate interaction patterns

2               Add up the time spent on T/S and S/T, S/S or S

3               Calculate the interactions as a percentage of the entire lesson

4               If the T/S interaction is over 25% ask yourself:

·       does the lesson type merit it?

·       can the lesson be easily made more learner centered?

·       Is the teacher using the most efficient to meet the stage aim?

 

 

Managing teacher talk V1