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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

What Are They Thinking?
Theresa London Cooper

I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of listening to your students. They have a great deal to say and many questions to ask that don’t necessarily relate to the subject matter at hand. Every Thursday and on an as needed basis, I held a wrap session with my students. During this time, they asked questions about life and shared information that helped me understand their thinking, concerns, and fears. I came to know them better and they learned about their classmates. I established an environment of honesty and straight-forward talk that permitted the students to speak openly. For example, during one of these sessions several students told me that their parents made different statements to the teacher from the ones made to them at home regarding various issues. They told me that their parents didn’t always follow up on the agreements made with the teacher.

Moreover, as students shared their likes and dislikes of subject matter and the ways in which they learned best. They commented on my teaching style and what made them comfortable and uncomfortable. Incorporating the information impacted my instruction as I planned for more and varied ways of teaching a concept to respond to the needs of my students. I developed greater patience as students struggled to learn challenging material. In short, the conversations made me a better teacher.

Our Thursday rap sessions gave me an opportunity to model effective listening and dialogue skills. It also gave me an opportunity to model critical thinking, problem solving, and making good choices.

Through these conversations, I reached a student who was having difficulty with math, but worked very hard. After giving her a few study tips, she took ownership of her learning and improved her math scores.

I should also add that it is critical to set a time limit on the conversations. Guidelines must be established before the conversations begin. Based on your schedule, decide what the best time and day are for your talks.

I hope this article has given you pause and allowed you to understand the importance of listening to your students so that you can find out what they are thinking. You may think you cannot afford to take time away from your schedule for these conversations. I say, “You cannot afford not to make time.” With the proper guidelines and 15 minutes per week, you will reap the benefits of knowing your students, and learning important information that will impact their ability to focus and learn and help you hone your instruction. Give them a voice. Let them know they are being heard and over time you will experience amazing results.

To support your effort, I recommend the following book: Listening: The Forgotten Skill, A Self-Teaching Guide by Madelyn Burley-Allen. As you sharpen your listening skills, you can model them for your students during your conversations. To this end, both you and your students are refining your listening skills–an essential life skill and mode of communication. And you may find it bolstering your student’s test-taking performance.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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