Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Listen, Listen and Listen

Five months into a new work place and I have discovered how little my students actually listen. I was shocked when I first entered my classes because what greeted me was not the typical type of classrooms which I was used to (I don't know whether location, race have anything to do with this) but that of students busy having their own conversations or doing their own things while the teacher is talking. It took weeks of constant reminders and great effort to make them sit and listen. And while I have seen some degree of silence, making it a point that these kids listen while lesson is ongoing is a continuous effort. And a noisy surrounding certainly does not help. A great way to learn about life and everything else in it... We think more too I feel, when we listen well...

Notice how people redirect a conversation to themselves or topics of their interests while are in the midst of telling them something? Or how they start giving their own opinions less than a couple of minutes into the conversation? They are many ways a conversation is redirected or hijacked.

The art of listening is a dying art. I always believed that listening is one of the dominant ways of learning. If we are not able to listen, we will not be able to learn. And by learning, I don't mean the kind of learning that requires you to regurgitate stuff lock, stock and barrel. When one listens, one is supposed to make meaning of the sounds he takes in. The brain then extracts meaning from those sounds. It's a great way of exercising our brain if we listen well.

I learned something these last few days by observing how the people around me communicate. And I discovered that by observing how they listen, I could identify their intent. I could infer the intent of the person doing listening by just observing the responses given. And much to my chagrin, I discovered that many people are poor listeners. And guess what? Poor listeners aren't really interested in other people. Most of the time, they were into themselves. And so, very much like many of my students who were so engrossed with themselves that they hardly listened, I found that it wasn't very much different everywhere.

Good listeners make good learners. Good listeners understand that listening helps us understand more about life. A good listener learns to think more because listening is a process that includes the need to extract, make sense and reflect on the materials taken in. Only in good listening will we be able to process further the understated and the subtle.

I teach History this year too. And in Form 5, the MOE has introduced a new paper which is an open book exam paper. The lack of ability of our 17 year olds to think shows very painfully in this paper. Despite having mostly better students, I found their ability to think sorely missing. Even in copying portions which have been prepared beforehand for the exam, I see the lack of ability to discern. Hence, typo errors were transferred unchanged into the exam scripts without even any thoughts. Just to illustrate... There is no BM word for 'dating' but for those of us familiar with the auto correct in MS Word, you know that the original word is 'datang'. Yet students did no processing of whatsoever. It's easy to conclude that they brain was hardly thinking when the hands were copying. These are kids who have lost the art of listening...

I think conscious listening is helps to create understanding. I mean, one can always claim that reading helps us understand too... But I think, it's by listening to our surrounding, the people around us that true understanding takes place. Cos listening is supposed to be two way. It shows us what we understand and don't understand. We have conversations but if listening doesn't take place, there will be no understanding. We become lonelier people, I should think. And in the world, if we don't listen, chaos will reign.

People don't listen for many reasons. There are too many distractions. We are too desensitized by so many things around us. Kids don't listen in class because they are lulled by the thought that their tuitions would see them thru. People around us don't listen because they are not interested in others. Whatever the reasons, the inability to listen brings about a lack of understanding.... of ourselves and the world around us. Not being able to listen actually dumbs us...


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