“1, 2, 3, eyes on me.”
“Criss, cross, applesauce - hands in your basket.”
Spend time in a typical elementary classroom and you might hear one of these sayings. You might even find a poster that reminds children what ‘good listening’ looks like. It’s time to reassess what students need to learn. Diverse brains have diverse needs, and pressuring students to behave like the neuromajorty can actually do more harm than good.
Neurodiversity is the natural variability in human brains and their functions: learning, mood, attention, and social drive. It is the normal variation in the human population. When we impose rules or guidelines for classroom behaviour and learning, we are pushing neurodiverse people to focus in a way that someone else deems to be appropriate.
‘Whole Body Listening’ is an outdated concept that asks students to prove they are engaged by keeping their bodies looking a certain way. Let’s debunk this out of style idea.
You don’t have to look to be listening. There are many reasons that a person may not make direct eye contact, and none of them have anything to do with being rude. Eye contact can be distressing and distracting, and in many cultures, it is actually considered disrespectful.
Everyone has a different level of comfort with noise and may require accommodations to decrease distractions and discomfort. Noise canceling headphones, earmuffs, or amplification systems are some of the learning tools that should be present in a classroom or learning environment.
Fidgety fingers and flapping hands can be signs that we are engaged, not distracted. Harness fidgeting to improve focus, turning uncontrolled movements into controlled - this can help find the ‘just right’ level of alertness that is required for listening.Remember that a good fidget should be private and quiet, and be helpful for learning and mood. Paperclips, erasers, zippers, and strings all make excellent fidgets.
Mouths might be chewing, moving, or making quiet noise to help us process what is being said. Many people think ‘out loud,’ and verbal stimming (repeating words, sounds, or noises) can help with focus.
We know that movement engages the brain, and that most people NEED to move in order to learn. Movement seating is a great option in the classroom. Consider inviting students to use a pacing line or standing desk to enhance their listening.
Remember that every brain and body is unique, and that listening will look different. The classroom expectation should not be standard, but tailored to each student. Talk about what listening might look like. The new standard is: everybody gets what everybody needs. Accommodations for learning are not earned.
Practice using different sensory and learning tools to determine what may be helpful; teach students to respond to what their individual body needs. Keep track of the ways your child or students listen and learn best, and share them with their future teachers. You might need to get creative; problem solve to accommodate different learning styles. The student that uses verbal rehearsal to plan out what they will write will be distracting to a student who requires a quiet environment to learn.
After you present, comprehension checks can be used to ensure that the material is understood. Here are a few of my favourites:
Pair and Teach - Teach the material to a classmate. This is a great way to ensure that you took in the new information.
Exit Slips - Create a sample question and have each student compose a response. Hand it in as you leave the class so that there is no pressure to perform in front of peers.
Give it a Score - Have students rate their own understanding by showing a number between 1 (Are you speaking the same language as I am?!!) and 5 (I could teach this class).
Error Correction - Once the lesson has been taught, make a mistake and have the students correct it.
My body listening looks like: head turned toward the speaker, moving hands, and a quiet
mouth. What does your body listening look like?