do you hear what i hear?

When teaching students this week on how to use NoodleBib for creating citations and digital notes, I learned from previous experience with middle schoolers that tutorial videos taking them through step by step seems to help cement the process for them much more clearly that me showing them in person via a projector and big screen.  Sure, the kids like watching videos, and it’s using media that appeals to them to share content and process, and also builds in differentiation by allowing them to take it at their own pace and re-teach themselves by re-viewing the videos–all good things.

However, what really struck me with this current group of 6th graders–besides their high, positive energy–is their complete lack of the ability to simply listen.  With a focus on 21st Century skills such as collaboration and creation, critical thinking and problem solving–I am finding that critical listening is a skill gap that seems to be growing among our young digital natives, millennial kiddos, or whatever you want to call them today.

I can break down problem solving into tangible steps and teach that to kids, I can teach them to distinguish between a quality source and a shoddy one, and I can even help get their creative juices flowing…but so what if they have problems just following the steps I give them orally that number less than the fingers on one hand? I’ve noticed that a majority of the students even have focus issues when wearing a headset and watching the tutorial video, without any distractions from their peers or environment.  I wonder if even a dog-and-pony video would bore them, too?

So, is it utter lack of investment with the subject matter, or a distinct lack of development of the brain that causes a psuedo-narcoleptic attention span triggered by anything longer than 30 seconds in students?  Has listening become a metacognitive strategy too challenging for your average 6th grade concrete thinker, versus a basic ability anyone with ears and functioning hearing should have? Is Nicolas Carr right–have we offloaded so much of our memory banks that we can’t even spare a little space to follow directions given to us orally?

Okay, I may be a bit harsh here, but after chatting with some colleagues recently about this very same non-listening behavior surfacing in our students, it started me thinking about how to really teach  how to listen.  I have tried techniques such as wrapping, and it works fairly well, but seems to set up the goal of listening as a game rather than as a skill worthy of developing.  But, maybe mastering listening today depends on deploying tricks of external motivation–create auditory carrots?

So, one of my new goals is to collect, design, and rework strategies for teaching listening as a 21st Century Skill on its own, and share them hear–I mean here.

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