Rethinking Listening

I used to think that students were only listening if they were sitting quietly and watching the speaker. Over the years, that’s changed, and today that changed a lot for me. Today I decided to do something that I’ve never done before, and certainly never so early in the year.

My Grade 1’s are learning about living things in Science, and my Grade 2’s are learning about animal life cycles. I found a fantastic “frog video” on Learn360, and I wanted to show it to the class. It’s only about 15 minutes, and it addresses both science topics with some great information too!

In the past, I would have turned off the lights, had everyone watch the video, and then completed a follow-up activity where students reflected on what they learned. This worked, and it worked well, but today I wanted to try something different. Today I wanted to rethink “listening.”

I thought that I would try out a backchannel. I would have the students use a variety of tools to write down their thoughts during the movie itself. They would need to listen, reflect, and write all at the same time. It was going to be a challenge, but my students love a challenge, and I thought that it was worth a try.

On the table near the carpet, I lay out the tools. There were 3 Nintendo DS’, two iPads, four iPod Touches, two Livescribe Pens, and a bunch of whiteboards. I also had a desktop and laptop computer up and running too. As a class, we quickly discussed the goal of the activity, and we talked about the different programs that the students could use on each of the tools. The children decided to use Pictochat on the Nintendo DS’ (they even showed me how they could draw and label their drawings on Pictochat — something I didn’t know they could do), they decided to use Twitter on the iPads, they decided to use WritePad on the iPod Touches, and they decided to blog on the computer and laptop. Every child chose his/her own tool. They negotiated, and quickly settled down ready to write.

It was incredible! Students were so actively engaged in listening. They were watching, they were reflecting, and they were writing as I’ve never seen them do before. One student using the whiteboards even asked if she could edit her work before taking another photograph of it. Wow! 

I didn’t have to stop the movie one time to ask the students to be quiet. I didn’t have to ask any of the children to check their sitting. I wasn’t policing behaviour, but instead, I was sitting back and observing real learning. I stopped the movie a couple of times, and we chatted as a class about what was being discussed. We just talked. Students didn’t raise their hands and wait their turn. They waited until one student was done, and then they chimed in. We had a real discussion. I had to stop myself a couple of times and remind myself that this was a Grade 1/2 class.

Important Note: Some of the finished work is visible in the slideshow.

Completed work is also on:

1) Twitter Account 1 and Twitter Account 2

2) Our Blog — Post 1; Post 2; Post 3


This whole experience made me realize that listening can be defined in many ways. It made me realize that when we set high expectations for our students they will achieve them. And it made me see the real value in engagement.

Have you ever “rethought listening” before? What were the results? I would love to hear your thoughts!


11 thoughts on “Rethinking Listening

  1. Aviva,

    This is amazing. What an unbelievable lesson. So many people think that grade 1 and 2 kids are too young for this kind of critical thinking and even for this kind of tech use. I am going to share this post with the staff at my school. I know they will be motivated by what you have done with your students. Thanks so much for this.

    Marci Laevens

    • Thank you so much! I love lessons like this one: where they turn out so much better than you ever expected! I will definitely be doing more of these activities in the classroom now. Thanks for sharing my post with others too! It’s amazing what students of all ages can do! My students remind me of this every single day!


  2. Great post and activity. Just wondering if this type of activity might be overwhelming for some students? Remember listening to a “brain researcher” who claimed that the human brain can’t truly concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

    • Thanks for your comment! I considered this, and that’s why I stopped the movie periodically to discuss what was happening. I paused the video at times when key words or diagrams were on the screen, so that students would have that as an anchor too. I also gave students numerous ways to respond — using both pictures and words – which I think helped too! Hope this helps clarify things!


  3. I use backchanneling a lot in my class as well. To me, videos are almost the perfect time to employ this learning strategy. We’ve started using Voicethread as a backchanneling tool too. Check it out.

    • Thanks for the comment, Royan! Wow! VoiceThread sounds like an awesome tool for a backchannel. I’m going to have to look at what you’ve done. Thanks for letting me know!


      P.S. I liked your “faceless man” comment too! 🙂

  4. Pingback: What happens when they don’t choose it? : Live Learning with Livescribe

  5. Aviva, you continue to inspire me. That’s pretty much all I can say after reading this post. I may not have access to all the technology that you have, but I can get to the heart of what you’re doing here and I can do it too. I love that. I’d LOVE to be a fly on the wall in your room, or have a direct link to your thinking brain. Thank you so much for sharing. Karen

  6. Pingback: Back Channeling With Six and Seven Year Olds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *