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How to Get Students to Really Listen, Summarize/Paraphrase, and Respond to Peers

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If you’re noticing a large gap between your students’ speaking skills and the ambitious Speaking and Listening Standards within the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), you’re not alone: many teachers that I talk to share how difficult it is to have discussions or debates in which students actually listen to one another and respond.

Mentioning isn’t good enough

In even the best secondary discussions, students will acknowledge that they are part of a conversation (e.g., “Going off of what Jean-Paul said, I think…,” or “Aron, in regards to your point, this is what I think…”), but they won’t actually show that they understood what the other person said. They are engaging in assumicide: I assume I understand what you said, and now I’m going to respond to it. In the video below, the first student clip is an example of that kind of discussion move, which I’ll call mentioning. (Click here for the youtube link.)

Now, clearly, this is way better than the (much more common) phenomenon of students simply waiting their turn to spout their two cents at the teacher. In such scenarios, no one cares what other students say: they are simply warding off boredom by participating, or they are meeting the teacher’s expectation for participation — but they are not actually engaging with ideas.

To put it in CCSS terms, take a look at SL.9-10.1d:

Review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.

This is more than mentioning: it is taking the time to summarize or paraphrase what someone else said. Only after this has happened can we venture into adding something new, disagreeing with evidence, questioning, or perhaps revising our original stance in light of a stellar point.

Using debate to hone in on this skill

My students recently read and annotated several books from The Odyssey. This is the first extended complex text that they are required to read as freshmen, and I have them read it for the sake of accruing textual evidence in response to this question: Is Odysseus a hero or a villain?

In reading, my target anchor standard here is R.CCR.1; in writing, I’m aiming for W.CCR.1 because at the end of their reading I will guide students in using their evidence to construct their first argumentative essay; and, in speaking and listening, I’m aiming at SL.CCR.1.

For a written overview of my debate, check out these notes. In them, you’ll find my pre-debate, debate, and post-debate activities, and I also include a rubric for assessing the speaking and listening standards covered in this activity.

For a video overview, enjoy the segment below (or click here for the link).

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3 Responses to How to Get Students to Really Listen, Summarize/Paraphrase, and Respond to Peers

  1. Erica Beaton (@B10LovesBooks) October 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Yes! This is exactly where my students need to shift next. Last week’s debates were filled with very polite “mentions” of the opposition. Students referred to one another by name by hardly ever paraphrased what one another had to argue. I like the one you framed it as tiers of discussion. Also, your rubric makes it so simple. I’m ganking it for this week’s debate. Thank you.

  2. Julia June 5, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    I’ve been devouring your blog and appreciate all of your wisdom. While there are tons of questions about teaching and student growth I could ask, the most pressing is- what are you wearing around your neck in those videos?

    Thanks sharing all of your struggles and successes!

    • davestuartjr June 8, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

      Julia, so happy to hear that this blog has been useful to you — I hope it continues to be of service as I seek to add to it this summer. Please, ask any questions, any time! That little neck device is a sound-amplification thing — it connects to a system we have in our rooms. I sometimes have students with IEPs that specify this device must be worn; it helps some students pay better attention or overcome hearing difficulties.

      Keep in touch, Julia!

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