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How Can We Help Students (and Ourselves!) Grow As Listeners? (Something to Talk About)

Posted by admin on Nov 18, 2021 9:00:00 AM


About the Episode

Welcome back to Something To Talk About, a podcast and blog series about all things classroom discourse!

In each episode of the Something to Talk About mini podcast we ask just one juicy question about classroom discourse to a group of educators.

In Episode 6, Stenhouse editor and author, Kassia Wedekind asks:

How can we help students (and ourselves!) grow as listeners?

You’ll hear from literacy coaches, Christy Thompson and Caroline Sweet, first-grade teacher, Santasha Dhoot, third-grade teacher, Jennifer Orr, and math educator professor, Allison Hintz.

And we’d love to hear from you! Let us know how you’re helping students grow as listeners or how you’re growing as a listener yourself. Leave a comment here on the blog, or connect with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.



Meet the Educators in this Episode

Christy picChristy Thompson is a literacy coach in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. She has spent her teaching and coaching career particularly focused on listening to and learning from the talk of our youngest students. Christy is the co-author of Hands Down Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math and tweets @teacherthomp.
Caroline-SweetCaroline Sweet is a Bilingual Literacy Coach at LCpl Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School in Austin, Texas and has been a bilingual educator for seventeen years. She is the author of Patterns of Power en español: Inviting Bilingual Writers into the Conventions of Spanish. You can find Caroline on Twitter @carolinesweet82.


Dhoot Headshot 1-1Santasha Dhoot (She/Her/Hers) is a Punjabi Sikh first-grade teacher in the Greater Seattle Area. She graduated from the University of Washington with a Masters in Teaching. She has a passion for educational justice and aspires to be a part of building an education system in which all students thrive. She loves learning alongside our youngest students and believes our future is bright because of them. You can follow Santasha on Twitter @tashadhoot.


Orr photo 2Jennifer Orr has spent more than twenty years teaching and learning with elementary students from kindergarten through fifth grade. She currently teaches third graders at Fort Belvoir Upper School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Jennifer is the author of Demystifying Discussion: How to Teach and Assess Academic Conversation Skills, K-5. She tweets @jenorr and blogs at


Hintz Bio Photo 2 (2)Allison Hintz is the co-author Intentional Talk and the co-author of the upcoming Mathematizing Children’s Literature. She is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Washington, Bothell. She studies teaching and learning alongside educators to create experiences where children are heard, understood, and inspired as mathematical sense makers. Allison tweets @AllisonHintz124.



Books & Blog Posts By Our By Our Episode 6 Guests 

Read the transcript

Kassia: Welcome back to Something to Talk About, a podcast and blog series from Stenhouse Publishers. I'm Kassia Wedekind, and I'm an editor and author here at Stenhouse and a math coach. Here on the Something to Talk About mini podcast, we asked just one juicy question about classroom discourse and hear the unique responses and perspectives of several educators.

Kassia: And in today's episode we're asking, how can we help students and ourselves grow as listeners? A few years ago, I had the chance to visit Katie Keier's kindergarten classroom at Mount Eagle Elementary School. Katie is the co-author of Catching Readers Before They Fall and a visit to her classroom never disappoints. So on this visit, I was sharing Christopher Danielson's book, How Many with her students and asking them to figure out all the ways they could answer the question. How many in response to an image from Christopher's book.

Kassia: The moment I said, "Turn and talk to your partner," it was loud, really loud. There was a flapping around of copies of the image, talking on top of each other, lots of bodies moving. And I'll admit that it was hard for me to really focus on listening to the students. And I wondered if the students had really been listening to each other or to me.

Kassia: Later, when I watched some video we had taken of these turn and talks, I was able to really listen to the children and how their eager shouts of, "No, that's not right. And let me show you how I kind of different and miss Katie, miss Katie look their six." All of this talk demonstrated the ways they were listening and responding to each other and the teachers.

Kassia: And I had almost missed it. Sure, these kindergartners had plenty left to learn about the ways we can listen and engage with one another's ideas, but clearly so did I. I relearned that day that listening, whether you are five year old or an adult is a lifelong practice to keep growing in. And yet it is tempting in schools to equate listening with compliance.

Kassia: Schools often describe being a good listener as sitting up straight, making eye contact and being quiet while others often the teacher are talking. So in today's episode, we're going to hear from educators who are thinking about listening in different ways. We're thinking about what all the ways listening can look like and sound like. And we're wondering how we can help students and ourselves keep growing as listeners.

Kassia: Christy Thompson, a literacy coach in Virginia, and the co-author of Hands Down, Speak Out, talks about how she's changed her thinking about what it means to be a listener in the classroom.

Christy Thompson: I think that's my ideas about how a student grows as a listener have changed a lot in more recent years as you and I have thought about this together. And I think one big way I've changed is that I've come to realize that the definition of a good listener that I used in my earlier years of teaching really came from a set of dominant cultural norms that wasn't reflective of the diversity of personalities and cultures and families that are in my classroom.

Christy Thompson: So I think one thing I need to do and have been working on is to recognize the wide variety of ways that people indicate listening and to recognize those out loud and point them out and applaud them when my students do them, not just reinforcing the ways that it fit with more stereotypical classroom norms like statue, still, bodies and silent lips, but when someone interjects to disagree, but, "Hey, did you ever think about this?"

Christy Thompson: Or if someone displays surprise or confusion on their face, these are awesome indications of listening that give the talkers important feedback and they can be reinforced just like we reinforce Criss Cross Applesauce or something like that. And it just kind of gives them message to students that listening is really an obtainable skill for all of us, not just the students who are really good at making intense eye contact and sitting on their hands.

Caroline Sweet: Yeah. That listening can be, and often is in a classroom pretty loud. And that, or sometimes abrupt like a kid saying shouting out, "No," to someone's comment sometimes to me that can feel like initially rude or just not the kind of listening that I tend to do, but it is listening and it is often productive to the conversation. So broadening the definition or that listening seems like a helpful step for the teacher.

Christy Thompson: Yeah, definitely. And if... Sometimes I even think about side conversations and how I have a side conversation in a class because I've listened sometimes because I heard something and then because I'm that kind of person I need to talk about it. And so when you see a kid having a side conversation, sometimes you're like, "Oh, the kid's off task," but maybe it's an indication that they actually heard something and need to talk about it.

Christy Thompson: So it's just kind of going back to that curiosity of why is that child quiet? Why is that child talking? And not making assumptions right away.

Kassia: Caroline Sweet, a literacy instructional coach in Texas and the author of Patterns of Power en español, shares a strategy she uses to support students in listening to one another.

Caroline Sweet: I was trying to remember a podcast I listened two years ago about how young children have a hard time listening to their peers because they're hanging onto their idea. And I looked for it last night, I just couldn't find it. But maybe somebody will tweet at me and be like, "Here it is."

Caroline Sweet: But yeah, I think the listening has to be encouraged and supported and scaffolded. And so just one of my favorite strategies on conversation or whole group conversations is when we're sitting together as a class on the carpet and a student might is sitting with their partner. I like at times to push into a space where when they share or they will share with a stem of, "I heard my partner say, or I heard say their name say," and then they will repeat the message they heard and then they turned to their partner and asked, "Did I get that right?"

Caroline Sweet: And so that's one of my favorite kind of go-tos to make sure we're encouraging listening, and then helping students who feel a little more apprehensive about speaking, making sure their voices are also considered and their ideas are heard in the classroom. And then if we get good at that pushing into a space of then adding your own idea or opinion on as kind of a grammar nerd, I like the stem of, "I heard my partner say, did I get that right?"

Caroline Sweet: And then follow it up with, but I think, or, and I think. Right? So if we're thinking about or coordinating conjunctions and the messages they send like, "Are you in agreement?" And you're going to expand on that, or are you finding something where you differ an opinion? So just pushing into that space where we're providing that scaffold to speak, but really asking kids to lean in and make sure they heard their partner say something.

Kassia: Santasha Dhoot, a first grade teacher in the Seattle area, shares about how classroom meetings and morning meetings can be powerful and motivating spaces for listening and growing as listeners.

Santasha Dhoot: I just think in having classroom meetings and morning meetings when every single student is having the opportunity to share and having an opportunity to listen to each other. And I've found that the most active conversations and where I've seen the most thoughtful listening, where I see students very much engaged in what their peers are saying, or really sharing their talk moves is when we're having our classroom meetings, like problem solving meetings. Like if someone sees a issue that's happening in the classroom, or I myself see an issue that's happening and we are talking about it.

Santasha Dhoot: That's when I see the most thoughtful, because it's like real time problems that are happening for them and they're able to share what they're feeling upset about or listen to how their friends are feeling. I think that's the time when I've seen the most thoughtful.

Kassia: Jennifer Orr, a third grade teacher in Virginia, explains her process for noticing and naming the ways children listen to one another.

Jennifer Orr: One of my favorite things to do with kids in conversations is to notice their name. And so when I see kids, look, I noticed that Alex was making eye contact with Lori when she was talking. And so I can tell that Alex was really listening to Lori, which means Alex then is going to keep doing that because he's been praised for it. But others are going to go, "Oh, right, that's something that I'm trying to do and I want to do that."

Jennifer Orr: So if I can ... It required a lot of time and effort for me early on to notice these things, to really look for... And it was true in talk moves too, not just in listening, but to look for kids' strengths and to identify it's... I think that somehow as teachers, and I don't know if this is something we're trained or just too naturally, we're always looking at the things kids aren't doing yet and how do we get them to do those things. Instead of looking at what are all the things kids are already doing and how can we build on those?

Jennifer Orr: So noticing the strengths, the skills they already have, even if it's just the beginning of a skill to notice it and point it out and then build on it. And one of the things I've noticed with third graders at least is that if I do that for a little bit, they start to do it too. And so they'll notice for each other and go, "I saw you ask so and so a question about what they were saying." Or "I noticed you were really looking at me while I was talking today. Thanks."

Jennifer Orr: It's amazing to see how much it doesn't then always have to be me noticing the strings, they do it too.

Caroline Sweet: Yeah. I think that's a really nice way of phrasing it too, in that kind of noticing language that it's not about doing something to please you or because it's the rule that you're establishing, but that it's helpful to our conversation and that other people can notice things and that seems like tied to kind of this co-ownership of the conversation too.

Jennifer Orr: Yes. That's such a great. Yes. It comes into all of us working as a community to do it. It's not about them versus me, it's us.

Kassia: And lastly, Allison Hintz, a math education professor and the co-author of Intentional Talk and Mathematizing Children's Literature reminds us that the way our students listen to one another and the ways that we as teachers listen to our students are tightly connected.

Allison Hintz: I always think of Christy Tyson, she's a learning scientist and she's really helps us think about these ideas. And she says that children listen the way they are heard. And that as Al [Hom], said isn't helps us see the awesome responsibility as teachers to be mindful of how we are listening and know that how we listen shapes how children will listen to themselves, how they will listen to each other. So we can work on that together.

Kassia: So we're wondering, how do you help your students grow as listeners and how are you growing as a listener yourself? We'd love to hear from you on our Stenhouse blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. And we'll see you back here in a couple of weeks for another mini podcast episode of Something to Talk About.


Topics: Something to Talk About