Getting students to listen is the perennial problem of teaching, matched by the problem of getting them to read (“Your attention please: we must learn to listen”, Features, 11 September).
Today there are chronic disincentives to listen and read with full attention, including the defensive habits formed by years of exposure to a massive daily deluge of rhetoric via the internet and media, and a weary sense emanating from the cognoscenti that the cupboard of genuinely new ideas is all but bare. University students are supposed to acquire critical skills and life-changing worldviews, but although critical skills are in the ascendant, all the main, once “life-changing” perspectives have long since been rubbished to near extinction. What seems to be needed is a felicitous informal procedure for checking that students have actually listened to the lectures and read the texts on which a course is based. An envelope containing a different question for each student randomly shuffled at the end of the lecture might be the way to do it: with the requirement that each student must speak about his/her question in a follow-up session.
Last year I offered an afternoon course in listening skills to members of my department in response to requests. I found a listening skills facilitator by contacting the local Quaker meeting as Quakers have three centuries of “listening skills” to draw on. I would recommend this source of support to anyone else wishing to strengthen their listening skills.
Head of English, communication, film and media
Anglia Ruskin University