Listening in the Classroom

Here is a brief item that will appear as a Listen to This box in the new edition of Essentials of Human Communication. This little piece is an attempt to raise the question of listening in the classroom, rather than to provide an exhaustive list of dos and don'ts.

It is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), American professor and poet.

Right now, a large part of your listening will take place in the classroom-listening to the instructor and to other students. In addition to following the general guidelines for listening, here are a few additional suggestions for making your classroom listening more effective.
1. Prepare yourself to listen. Sit up front where you can see your instructor and any visual aids clearly and comfortably. Remember that you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
2. Avoid distractions caused by mental daydreaming as well as physical distractions like your laptop, iPhone, or newspaper.
3. Pay special attention to the introduction of the lecture; this will often contain an orientation and will help you outline the lecture. Listen for orienting remarks and for key words and phrases (often written on the board or on PowerPoint slides) such as “another reason,” “three major causes,” and “first.” These will often cue you into the outline the instructor is following.
4. Take notes in outline form. Avoid writing in paragraph form. Listen for headings and then use these as major headings in your outline. When the instructor says, for example, “there are four kinds of noise,” you have your heading and you will have a numbered list of 4 kinds of noise.
5. Assume what is said is relevant. It may eventually prove irrelevant (unfortunately) but if you listen with the assumption of irrelevancy, you’ll never hear anything relevant.
6. Listen for understanding; avoid taking issue with what is said until you understand fully and then, of course, take issue if you wish. But, generally, don’t rehearse in your own mind your arguments against, say, a particular position. When you do this, you run the risk of missing additional explanation or qualification.

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