A Capital Success!: The Capital Chapter Workshop
on Listening Strategies

May 19th, 2015 | By | Category: Capital Area, Chapters
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ellen lange

Ellen Lange

close-up photo of workshop leader Yi Guan. Photo by Leslie Freeland.

Workshop leader Yi Guan. Photo by Leslie Freeland.

By ELLEN LANGE

—Yi Guan from CSU, East Bay and the College of Alameda led a listening-strategies workshop on Saturday, April 11, 2015, held by the CATESOL Capital Chapter. When planning the workshop, the steering committee unanimously agreed to put on a presentation on an unusual or less-focused-on topic, one that offered a different direction in professional training.

After careful review, steering committee members decided to focus on listening and speaking and to invite Dr. Yi Guan as our workshop leader. Her workshop, “Listening Strategies to Improve ESL Students’ Listening Comprehension,” was based on her research for her doctoral degree in International and Multicultural Education with a concentration in Second Language Acquisition from the School of Education, University of San Francisco. What sparked our interest was Guan’s comment that “explicit instruction in listening strategy can positively impact ESL students’ listening comprehension performance.” We attracted a multilevel audience as all our ESL learners struggle with understanding, particularly as English is a syllable-timed language with the added comprehension challenges of linking and reduction.

With Li Guan promoting such a welcoming atmosphere and with her nonthreatening guidance, the workshop became highly interactive, as we participants quickly shed our inhibitions as we practiced listening strategies ourselves. For example, we know that ESL learners almost uniformly believe that they must understand every word they hear to get meaning. In this workshop, we teachers learned how to teach the “selective attention” strategy to get students to “zoom” their ears in on specific aspects of an utterance (content words) and leave the rest “blurry.” Volunteers from our group became ESL students: Li Guan gave them a sentence to write on the whiteboard and then she asked them to sit in front of it, each student becoming a word. The instructions were that when the volunteer enunciated his or her word in sentence order, he or she had to go into action by standing up for a stressed word or staying seated for an unstressed word. You can imagine the heated discussion that ensued before “showtime” while instructors practiced and reviewed their knowledge of stressed and unstressed words.

three participants at capital area workshop; photo by Branka Marceta

Workshop participants focused on listening strategies. Photo by Branka Marceta.

Another technique participants practiced was elaboration, whereby teachers work with students to solicit prior knowledge of words commonly used in a particular situation before engaging in it. To illustrate, we teachers/students worked with a picture of a bank or post office setting to review situational words and learn some new ones. We quickly learned how this activity prepares students to pick up context clues when using English at these venues: using the ATM machine, cashing a check, showing an ID. To solidify our knowledge after this exercise, we listened to spoken scripts of transactions at the bank or post office focusing on content words.

As part of the exercise, my partner and I performed a skit on choosing salad dressings at a restaurant, a major challenge reported by our IEP students. We explained that the server was going to rattle the names off just like the grocery bagger slurs “Paper or plastic?” at the supermarket, but we assured our audience that with activating prior knowledge the task is doable and that they can get the ranch dressing they want instead of thousand island. (It can be as simple as looking at the list on the/a menu.) We participants even practiced interpreting a speaker’s emotions by zeroing in on intonation and observing facial expressions and how it is similar to listening to the music wax and wane on movie soundtracks.

One of the highlights of the workshop for me was an anecdote about a parent who felt more confident about attending parent/teacher meetings after learning listening strategies in one of Yi Guan’s classes. Although we did not have time to cover note-taking strategies, perhaps that can be the core of another workshop! In any event, all of us left armed not only with a solid bank of listening strategies but also with the knowledge of how to implement them in the classroom for our students.

This workshop offered a wonderful opportunity to invest in research-based professional development with an added mix of food, coffee, and networking. As an added bonus, now I am considering applying these same strategies to my French listening, with the goal of not trying to grasp every word and not going the second mile of translating it into English.

Ellen Lange is CATESOL past president 2014-2015.

 

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