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How to Teach and Assess Listening in Grades 6-12

Listening is a building block for learning. It’s been long understood that listening precedes reading and now recently the Common Core has elevated Speaking and Listening to an anchor standard to reflect this knowledge. Some state assessments are now testing listening as part of the English Language Arts portion. In states such as Florida, which is not using the Common Core standards, there is still a significant portion of the ELA state exam in the middle grades based on listening. In the CAASPP, the state tests in California, the listening comprehension questions comprise 15-18% of the ELA exam. Listening is not a skill only to be mastered in elementary school; listening impacts literacy for older students as well.

Whatever state you live in, listening skills are becoming more and more important—to improve it, you must be able to practice, assess and track progress—and yet, there are not many tools that help teachers do this. 

Listening in the classroom?

The first challenge is to find appropriate listening content to practice with. Ideally something that challenges students to think and introduces new higher-level vocabulary that won’t come up through classroom discussion with peers. So where does one look for such content? NPR and other podcasts are a great source of interesting stories with more advanced language and concepts to comprehend. The challenge is finding an appropriate story to fit into what you’re teaching at the moment that you need it.

Listenwise is one of the only classroom tools with a library of listening content that is curated to teach listening in middle and high school. Whether you’re trying to address media literacy and talking about fake news or connecting current events with history, you can find a high-quality story in the free collections.

The short NPR news stories and podcasts effectively weave interesting content into the middle and high school curriculum. Sign up free as a teacher to explore the library.

How Do We Assess Student Listening Skills?

Once your students are listening, how do you know if they’re really comprehending what they’re hearing? Well just like reading, listening has many different aspects. You may have a student who can answer literal recall questions but can’t really synthesize the main idea. Or perhaps you’ll discover a very strong student isn’t able to make inferences. But how would you discover that without the right assessments?

Try this free listening challenge - Let’s stretch your students’ listening comprehension skills and see how they do! It doesn’t take long - a 3-minute story followed by 5 questions. You might be surprised by the outcome!

Can Audiobooks, Podcasts Improve Literacy?

When teachers use research-based strategies in conjunction with high-quality audio content, it can impact literacy in multiple ways. First, students who lack decoding skills can build vocabulary by listening to content that they couldn’t read. But it goes further than that. Listening comprehension has a major impact on reading comprehension, and is the underlying cause of a growing percentage of struggling readers. So just working on strategies to improve listening comprehension can improve reading comprehension.

Using same language subtitling, students can work on their reading while listening to stories, an approach that’s been proven by research. And when a high school teacher using this approach asked kids whether they preferred to listen, or read, or do both together, they chose the combined approach. (There’s a great piece about this from MindShift if you want to dig deeper.)

Also, close listening strategies can impact comprehension and challenge students just as close reading strategies do. 


This sponsored article was written by Listenwise.