Encouraging Student Listening

Talking Points

(If you haven’t heard of the Talking Points activity yet, Cheesemonkey gives a great breakdown here.)

I’ve used Talking Points at the beginning of the year before to uncover student learning mindsets and to hear a little about their predispositions for math. Here are the Talking Points I used:

  1. When working together on math, if one person knows what to do, they should let other group members try first.
  2. Being good at math means being able to do math problems quickly.
  3. Getting a problem wrong means you’ve failed.
  4. A person is either good at math or bad at math.
  5. Drawing a picture is always helpful when doing math.
  6. Math is easier to learn when it involves the real world.
  7. There is always one best way to do math.

While these conversations were good to hear, I thought they did little to build on students’ current thinking. They felt a lot more like me, throwing statements (that I felt had obvious answers) out to my students, and waiting for them to come to what I felt were the correct conclusions. I think my students must also have felt there were correct answers and were just saying what I wanted to hear. In short, it felt artificial.

While combing MTBoS this week, I uncovered that Brian Miller uses the Talking Points protocol differently. He uses them to develop a classroom culture of listening. His Talking Points are:

  1. It’s impossible for other people to tell if you are listening.*
  2. Talking is more important than listening.
  3. Group activity can be good for learning.
  4. Listening and thinking are different things.
  5. Learning to listen and collaborate well with other people is important.
  6. If you think someone is wrong about something, it is more important to tell them right away than to listen to their reasoning.
  7. Everyone can learn to be part of a learning conversation.

*This one is his favorite. Mine too!

But I think one of the reasons Miller’s Talking Points activity seems less artificial is in his whole class reflection after the activity. He asks his classes,

Do you feel like you were being listened to? Why?


Were you listening to others? Do you think they knew you were listening?

In his words, “the conclusion at the end is that just listening is not enough.” These reflection questions urge his students to convert the thoughts on listening they just discussed and turn them into actions that will enhance their classroom community. Reviewing the Talking Points that I’ve used, I wonder what reflection questions I can ask about them to achieve a similar outcome!

Students Summarizing Students

From Research in Practice,

This summer, when I or a student put forth an idea, I regularly followed it with, “who can summarize what so-and-so said?” Or (even better), “so-and-so, can you summarize what so-and-so just said?” Following the models of Lucy West and Deborah Ball, I carefully distinguished summary from evaluation. “Not whether you buy it, just the idea itself.” When dipsticking the room on an idea, I would also make this distinction. “Raise your hand if you feel that you understand what was just said; not that you buy it, just that you understand what they’re trying to say.” Then, “leave your hand up if you also buy it.”

Two weeks ago, I wrote about using language that supports students seeing the class as a learning community. One way to do that is to frame classroom discussions as ways to build consensus. Moreover, looking at discussions this way encourages students to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

I love this idea of asking students to summarize one another and am looking forward to implementing it more in my classroom this year. I’ve lived with a secret fear that students who are paying attention to the class discussion will find the summaries repetitive. (I find it hard to distinguish between my preferences as a learner and best practices for students when I’m the teacher.) Happily, Kelly O’Shea reminded me of the importance of not falling into The Right Thing, Said Once trap.

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