Use Public Radio with the Listening Standard

monica brady myerovBy Monica Brady-Myerov

You go to school to learn how to read, write and do arithmetic. But the one skill you come in with, listening, loses importance over time as you build on your reading and writing skills.

In fact teaching tools that address listening are virtually nonexistent in the K12 classroom. Listening as a skill is almost entirely absent from the curriculum. And yet, research shows only 10% of us listens effectively. Clearly there’s a disconnect.

If students graduated from high school and only 10% could read well, there would be an education revolution. There is agreement among business leaders, politicians and educators that communicating effectively, which includes listening and speaking, is a key 21st century skill. In fact, we spend the majority of our time listening, not reading, writing or doing math problems.

A Common Core anchor skill

High School StudiesThe new Common Core standards have recognized the importance of listening well. The Common Core seeks to improve students’ skills and knowledge across a wide spectrum of learning. And for the first time in the history of education, the standards elevate listening to an anchor skill, cutting across the curriculum and applicable in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Speaking and Listening Standard requires students, among other skills, to interpret information from diverse media formats and delineate specific arguments and claims.

I know how to listen. As a public radio reporter, most recently at WBUR in Boston, it was my job to listen. I listened to politicians make their case in press conferences. I listened to lawyers make arguments in court. I listened to families devastated by drug abuse.

Then I synthesized those stories and wrote about them so other people would listen. I instinctively knew that if I told a good story and used compelling, emotional voices from the interviews, people would listen.

Now, as the founder of Listenwise, a website that curates public radio and readies it for the classroom with wrap-around lesson plans, I am trying to impart what I know about listening to teachers and students. What I’ve learned is that my instinct is correct. If you tell a good story, people listen better. Research out of Hebrew University proves this.

The brain and listening

I also know that people can improve their listening abilities. Like anything else that involves brain synapses, the more you practice the better you become. Making your brain practice by using techniques and good principles of active listening will help.

How do you improve listening? Most of the research around listening is related to learning a second language, not to becoming a better listener in your native language. But there’s much to learn from these studies.

One research study examines how a listener uses cognitive listening strategies to make sense of what they are hearing and metacognitive listening strategies to monitor the process of listening. Am I still listening? How do I get back on track? How do I understand that word?

In the paper, Laura Januski, PhD says a cognitive strategy might just be for the listener to grasp the main point of the story. A metacognitive strategy would be to check perceptions during listening to assess understanding.

Here are some highlights from research, summarized from my white paper on the topic, “Understanding Auditory Learning.”

listenwise study snip

Rich, well-presented content can help

Better stories make for better listeners and learners, and some of the best audio stories in American culture are found at National Public Radio and the many public radio stations serving communities across the nation.

ear outline w 220Our company Listenwise makes it easy to bring authentic voices and compelling non-fiction stories to the classroom. We curate the best of public radio to keep teaching connected to the real world and build student listening skills at the same time.

Individual teachers can use our core services, including access to curated content, CCSS-aligned lesson plans, and other teacher resources including a listening guide, vocabulary, and class activities, at no cost. Today’s students are growing up in a time when the spoken word is becoming a dominant means of communication. Try the service, address important standards, and help your students become highly skilled 21st century listeners.

[Updated 9/15/16]

Monica Brady-Myerov is a long time public radio reporter, most recently with WBUR. She left reporting to start Listenwise website to help teachers use public radio in the classroom with Common Core lesson plans built around the topics. Listenwise is FREE for teachers and has Premium features for a school or district subscription. The Premium features include student logins, customizable assignments and interactive transcripts of the public radio stories.


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1 Response

  1. Erik Palmer says:

    Thanks for advancing the cause of the forgotten language arts! I always see “reading and writing” but seldom listening and speaking. Indeed, this may be the only book out there specifically about Listening & Speaking standards: Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking

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