Active listening - aka listening in a way that actually engages with the person you're talking to. One reason why I used to hate doing "class discussions" is because the students never actually listened to each other. What was supposed to be a conversation always ended up feeling like a back and forward between individual students and the teacher, rather than a dialogue between everybody in the room. I wanted to explore complicated and important issues with the students, but we couldn't do that if the students weren't benefiting from each other's ideas.
So what would happen if I could somehow break down the elements of a rich conversation into a set of concrete skills that I could teach the students? Turns out, such a structure already exists. It's called active listening and we can learn to be active listeners by practicing these four steps.
4 steps of Active Listening
Step #1: Repeat back what you heard
I used the following sentence starters to help students understand and practice each step of active listening.
First, I modeled for students how the sentence starters can be used in a conversation.
Here's the first conversation we had as a class.
Next, we had individual students take turns to be in the "hot seat" and propose a controversial opinion. Students came up with all sorts of interesting topics......from school lunches, to music, to whether porn was a good thing or not. After the "hot seat" student shared his/her controversial opinion, the audience used their active listening skills to probe the person in the "hot seat" and create a richer conversation. Students had fun with debating about things they care about. They were also excited to actually have an engaging conversation with each other for once!
Finally, we steered our conversations towards topics more relevant to the content we were studying in class. Students worked in small groups to practice the four steps of active listening using scenarios related to gene therapy and bioethics **disclosure these scenarios were not written entirely by me.