One of a teacher’s most challenging issues is commanding the attention of students who are poor listeners. Children, especially those with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, or other disabilities, often find themselves “drifting” during a teacher’s oral presentations. Even children with no disabilities, (and many adults!), find listening a chore.
One of the more basic ways a teacher can engage a poor listener is to fluctuate the voice when speaking. Talking in a virtual monotone is a great way to put any listener to sleep. Speaking with inflections such as changing the tone or volume of the voice will help keep listeners awake and interested.
Arranging the subject matter being discussed into action and descriptive words instead of passive will also gain more attention. Lecturing about historical events, for instance, will be more interesting to a listener if those events are lectured about using words that paint a real picture to the listener. Words that describe an event utilizing the impact of colors, size, causes and effects help a listener to “see” what is being discussed, not just hear about it.
For example one might turn the words, “The battlegrounds of the Civil War were everywhere” into “The battlegrounds of the Civil War were in the green fields and forests of nearly every state in the South.” “Many people were killed in the Civil War” might be better listened to as “Many men from all walks of life; their brothers, fathers, and uncles, died in the Civil War fighting for a cause they all believed in.”
Moving around the room while lecturing is another great attention getter for the non-listener. While changing the tone of voice forces the ears to listen a little closer, walking around while doing the same also forces the listener to “follow” the speaker. (It also makes the students at least appear to be paying attention as they never know when that teacher might end up right by their desk!)
Adding distractions from words might seem counterproductive to listening. But, if a teacher uses additional sources such as overheads, chalk boards, or hand outs, students have a chance to take slight breaks from actually listening yet still “see” what the instructor is saying. This method should be used carefully with the easily distracted student, however. Many children have trouble going back and forth between speech and sight learning, especially those with a Central Auditory Processing Disability (CAPD). If the transition between speech and sight is done fluidly, however, and cover the same materials, it is usually a great addition to gaining attention of students.
Though not widely used, sudden changes in a teacher’s demeanor will also affect the listening of students. If it is sensed that there are a great many students in the classroom that are not listening as well as they should, try something totally out of character. Drop a large book on the floor! Out of the blue, tell the class, quietly and unobtrusively, that they will now take out pen and paper. They will expect a quiz. Instead, after all are quiet and ready, ask them to draw on their paper any quick picture of the lesson they are studying. When they have drawn for 5 minutes or so, ask them to put their names on and turn in their sheets. Then, as if nothing unusual has occurred, go on with the lecture.
Drawing the class into discussions will help alleviate tedium in a classroom. While not every student wishes to discuss or talk in class, allow questions and ideas from students to be voiced once in a while during a lecture. Usually there are a few students who will raise their hands to offer an opinion of a subject. If no one volunteers, pick out a student and ask a direct question, pertaining to the lecture. Don’t put anyone “on the spot” if you don’t need to, but try to draw out ideas on what students might have to offer on the subject matter at hand. For instance, “What would YOU have done if your brother agreed with the South in the Civil War and you agreed with the North? How would you have reacted?”
Most importantly, for teachers trying to engage poor listeners, is the ability of that teacher to be in control of his/her emotions. Having a classroom full of students that you know are not listening can be extremely aggravating. It is common human nature that we get angry, frustrated, maybe even abusive if we are trying hard to do something and are failing miserably. Humor yourself and humor your classroom.
Instead of beating your head against a wall, or beating down the self-esteem of a student, lighten up the classroom with a stand up, impromptu comedy routine of your own. Stand on your chair and yodel, drop down and sit under your desk, turn the lights off, or anything that will gain attention, at least for the moment, to you, the instructor. You will feel better for the break in routine and your students will be paying attention and wondering just what you might do or say next. Make your next words count and make an impact.