Classroom listening skills


"Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly"
-- Plutarch (46 AD - 120 AD)

From a course evaluation form filled out by a student in one of my classes: "He just rambles on and on about nothing usually. He has good ideas if he would just stick to them."

Are you an effective listener?

Top ten ways to listen to boring lectures

Dr. Ralph Nichols says at the end of a 10-minute lecture most college freshmen will have retained only half of it. Then, 48 hours later they will have forgotten half of what they did remember.

Want to do better than that? Then, use effective listening techniques. Here are the "Top ten ways to listen to a lecture."

  1. Choose to find the subject useful.
    • Poor listeners dismiss most lectures as dull and irrelevant. They turn off quickly.
    • Effective listeners separate the wheat from the chaff. They choose to listen to discover new knowledge.
  2. Concentrate on the words and message, not on the professor's looks, clothes or delivery.
    • Poor listeners notice faults in a lecturer's appearance or delivery.
    • Effective listeners strive to pick every professor's brain for self-gain.
  3. When you hear something you're not sure you agree with, react slowly and thoughtfully.
    • Poor listeners stop listening to the speaker and start listening to themselves. They either passively reject what is being said or they launch into impassioned rebuttals (to themselves).
    • Effective listeners don't jump to conclusions and then disengage. They keep conclusions tentative while getting more information.
  4. Identify the "big ideas," those fundamental concepts to which everything else in the lecture is related.
    • Poor listeners say, "I listen only for facts." They may retain a few of those facts, but the information is usually garbled.
    • Effective listeners look for foundational concepts. They grab key ideas and use them as anchor points for the entire lecture.
  5. Adjust your note taking system to the lecturer's pattern.
    • Some poor listeners attempt to outline everything, believing an outline and notes are the same thing. They get frustrated when they cannot see "points A, B and C."
    • Effective listeners adjust their note-taking to the organizational pattern used by the lecturer.
  6. Stay attentive.
    • Poor listeners let their minds to wander.
    • Effective listeners remain focused and actively try to absorb material.
  7. Aggressively tackle difficult material.
    • When poor listeners encounter a tough topic, they stop absorbing and let things start bouncing off them.
    • Effective listeners condition themselves to be interested in challenging matters. They find a challenge in grasping the meaning of what is being said -- no matter how difficult the subject.
  8. Don't get derailed by emotionally charged "buzz" words that trigger negative responses.
    • Poor listeners tune people out on the basis of a few words.
    • Effective listeners don't let the emotional baggage of a word hinder them from getting at the substance of a lecture.
  9. Get to know the professor personally.
    • Poor listeners see professors as talking heads.
    • Effective listeners like to pick up interesting facts about professors (personal history, family life, hobbies, etc.).
  10. Understand and use the differential between the speed of speaking and the speed of thinking. We think at about 400 words per minute. That's four times faster than most speakers can talk.
    • Poor listeners drift back and forth between a lecture and thoughts about other things.
    • Effective listeners use the thinking/speaking differential in three ways:
      1. Riding the crest of the wave by trying to anticipate the next point of the lecture.
      2. Evaluating what the lecturer is using for supporting evidence.
      3. Periodically summarizing the lecture to themselves.

Sparked by material in the December 15, 1999 issue of "The Professor in the Classroom," © by Leadership Lane

After learning to be a good listener, what's next?

NextAre there other steps you can take to improving your grades? Yes, there are. [ read more ]

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
Copyright © 2000, 2001 - Last Updated: April 3, 2014 |  URL: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/listen.htm

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