Eleven reasons why your students are  underperforming in Listening

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These are the most common reasons for undeperforming at listening comprehension tasks that we have  identified both through an extensive review of the existing literature on Listening instruction and our own professional experience.  If your answers to most of the below are ‘Yes’, you may want to radically reconsider your approach to teaching listening and maybe read our next blog, ‘How you can improve your students’ exam results’ which we will publish shortly as well as my past posts on Listening.

  1. Less than 40% of your lesson time is devoted to some form of listening practice (this may include oral-interaction tasks).
  2. Listening-skills are only a peripheral concern in your – and possibly your Department’s – long-, medium- and short-term planning. Hence, you put most of your effort in the teaching of vocabulary and grammar and you have not been building over the years a wide-ranging bank of resources and a repertoire of instructional strategies.
  3. (mainly as a consequence of the two points above) Your students do not perceive Listening as crucial to their learning. Moreover, you have made little effort to ‘push’ them to practise listening autonomously.
  4. You are not sufficiently aware of the cognitive challenges that L2 learners in general and the specific group of your students face whilst listening or learning to listen effectively. In fact you may have not as yet reflected long and hard on this issue and have rarely done any serious research in this domain. When your students perform really poorly at a listening task you do not usually ask them what the issues that hindered their performance were.
  5. You do not actually plan your listening activities and how to exploit them in order to teach new language and/or inference strategies. You are mostly textbook-bound and simply pick the tasks/tracks in there and press the play button following the teacher’s book recommendations or at random points in the lesson. Most of the time you do not plan for any pre- and post-listening follow-up tasks.
  6. The texts you use in your Listening tasks do not usually contain comprehensible input (i.e. whereby the students understand 90 to 95 % of the vocabulary and the grammar structures and syntax do not pose major challenges).
  7. The vast majority of the listening activities you stage in class consist of comprehension tasks; you rarely use listening activities to model new language in context, sentence construction, correct grammar-structure deployment and pronunciation.
  8. You rarely consciously focus in your lessons on training the students in bottom-up processing skills, especially decoding skills (how to turn combination of letters into sounds) and any other skills which help students breaking the flow of sounds they hear into intelligible units of meaning (e.g. words). The ability to break the flow is paramount, as it speeds up working-memory executive function thereby facilitating comprehension. Poor decoding skills usually result in poor comprehension skills. When your students typically acquire grammar and vocabulary through the written medium and not through listening or oral interaction, this issue is greatly exacerbated.
  9. You rarely instruct your students in inference strategies (like the ones listed here by Rebecca Palmer.). And when you do, it is usually through a one-off session, with no substantive follow-up.
  10. Your students do not to enjoy listening tasks. You rarely actively think of ways of making Listening enjoyable. They usually roll their eyes when you tell them you are about to do a listening activity.
  11. Your students are not self-efficacious when it comes to Listening, i.e. they are not very confident that they will succeed at Listening tasks; they often say ‘but Miss, I am not good at listening!. Self-efficacious L2 student-listeners are more likely to be more focused, engaged and perseverant; consequently, poor levels of self-efficacy are likely to result in poorer performance. You do not consciously plan for and actively scaffold success in Listening.

In this post I suggest ways in which the above issues can be addressed.




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