It’s interesting what different teachers think of when you ask them “How do you teach listening?”. This question was asked of some teachers who were kind enough to lend their time to me for the 2011 article I published in the KOTESOL proceedings (details). However, since then I’ve been able to ask more people, both formally and informally about this.
For both teachers and students, ‘teaching listening’ almost invariably means a set predetermined time in a lesson, often dictated by the textbook, and an audio cd that accompanies the textbook. So, listening might take up, possibly, just ten minutes of the lesson. Furthermore, often (thankfully not always), teaching listening means playing a CD and checking the accompanying comprehension questions afterwards. This is not actually teaching listening, but testing listening.
To teach something, the usual procedure is to provide instructional input first, provide scaffolded practice, and then test its acquisition (often at the end of semester). Why have we skipped the first two steps, when we have elaborate, well honed techniques for teaching grammar, for instance?
John Field (in his 2008 book), tells us that early listening pedagogy was adopted from reading pedagogy. In the late 1960’s early 1970’s expensive audio labs were installed in schools, and managers expected that we would make good use of them, but how? Of course busy teachers would just adapt techniques that were already within their pedagogical repertoire. As a consequence, many of our listening textbooks are structured like this, still.
So, how should we teach listening? Well, there are many things we can do. However, I’d rather make efficient use of class time, so I’d like to avoid the activities and techniques that are not effective, or worse still, damaging (there is some evidence that some listening activities has some negative consequence, more on that later).
So, what works? So far, in my research teaching pronunciation seems to be it. Or, using pronunciation as a vehicle for instructing listening. So this is the starting point of many articles on this topic that will follow on this blog. So, more to come.