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Just Listen. Just Listen. Just Listen.

These two words cycle through my mind every, oh I don’t know, maybe, every five seconds during writing workshop (and other times of the day, but I’ll keep focused on being a teacher of writers).

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

It’s a mantra that I’m trying to program into myself. I’ve been saying these two words over and over for more than a decade.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

On the positive side, some days I do this well.

On the flip side, I’m still repeating it to myself.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

When I remember to listen, when I put aside my predetermined notions, when I want to hear what students are doing, I increase my chances of teaching to the point of need.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking the point of need is a bull’s eye, a teeny-tiny micro blip of teaching points and we have to get it just right in order to “do it right.”

This isn’t true. It’s a lie we believe because we want to be good at what we do. The point of need isn’t about hitting a bull’s eye, it’s about being on the right side of the forest.

What’s the quickest way to get on the right side of the forest in a writing conference?

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

I mean, really listen. It’s more than hearing the words. It’s seeing how their words are matching their actions as writers. It’s figuring out if they are headed in a direction and determining where they came from. When I listen to a student talk about his writing, I’m letting go of the things I want him to do, and instead I’m listening to what he’s already doing as a writer and figuring out a way to help him do it better.

The heart of what we do in writing workshop is a focus on children, not content. It’s easy to lose this focus. There is much pressure to conform and to teach rigorously and to do this writing or prepare for that test, which is why after more than a decade I still have to repeat this mantra to myself.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

When I listen to students I rarely go wrong.

For more about this idea, check out this post I wrote about a year ago in response to something I realized at NCTE from people sharing their learning from Don Graves.

 

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

10 thoughts on “Just Listen. Just Listen. Just Listen. Leave a comment

  1. I followed the link and started doing some in-depth observations of my students. I’ve observed three students so far using this method, and two things have really struck me:

    1. I have learned SO MUCH about what my kids know and do and how they think as writers! I asked one yesterday why he changed his title from “Puss in Boots” to “The McDonalds Toy” and he said, “Because I can’t lie. I didn’t see the movie. But I did get the toy from McDonalds.” (WOW!)

    2. It has hugely impacted my relationships with my students. Since I’ve started observing them, I now look at some of my lowest students and think, You are the smartest little boy I know. And I tell them so! And I have seen both our relationship and the quality of their work significantly improve.

    Great post, and I love your site!

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  2. I have been reflecting on this post all weekend. I am finding myself reading my student’s This I Believe with that mantra in my head, just listen, just listen. You can listen to their voices in print as well, taking that editors hat off for the first round, just listening to the voices in my middle school classroom. Due to the pressures and time constraints, I find myself always looking at writing to determine the next mini lesson, to monitor the progress of my EL learners in their grammar and syntax, and for this weekend read, I am allowing myself the pleasure of just listening to the voice, what they are saying they believe. Thanks for that gift.

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  3. Actually, I think this is wise advice for daily life. It goes well beyond our teaching lives, and clearly well beyond our conferring in the writing workshop.

    We have let ourselves get so caught up in trying to move through the curriculum, cover the required and raise the test scores that we are losing sight of the power of reflection in our lives.

    In teaching, if we slow the pace and teach more deeply, pause to read, listen, attend to the being in our presence, then perhaps we would be more efficient and more effective. Perhaps we would rediscover the thrill of discovery.

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  4. Just listen is a good reminder for me, too as I get wrapped up in what I think children should be doing/learning as writers. I’m not doing enough listening lately. If I know this why do I go off course?

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  5. First of all, I agree wholeheartedly that we often speak too much, and assume things too quickly, rather than listening/observing carefully. I liked the post about Graves and your example very much, and it reminded me of that early Calkins book, Lessons from A Child-also learning by watching carefully. But, in all this, as I am now working with adults and helping them work with their students, I find your advice applies to my conferring with teachers also. I too need to repeat, Just listen, don’t jump in to tell what you would do, just listen, don’t give ideas until asked, just listen. It’s not easy but, with deep breaths, it helps people (students & teachers) grow. Thanks Ruth!

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  6. Prior to this year, I never had an intentional format for conferences with writers. I was more likely to conference with the intention of “getting it done” before the bell rang and the grade entry deadline than with the intention of “listening” to my student writers. However, this year (in response to an earlier post of yours), I am much more intentional about conferences. I start by asking students to tell me about their piece of writing and/or the topic. Then I find something to celebrate about what they’ve done so far. I end by suggesting something that would make their writing “even more effective.” It is often that what a student shares at the start of the conference shifts/influences my suggestion at the end of the conference.

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  7. Thank you, because I struggle with this. I think we are trained to “do” rather than reflect. I think this applies to life – it all passes so quickly, but when you listen, life slows down just enough to appreciate and reflect. Being heard by someone else is a gift.

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