Question: Listening Skills

Hi group members,
I just received another message, this time from a group member.  She has asked the following question:
I have had an Adult Education Director request information or curriculum on listening skills.  

It isn't a subject area that I have thought about, but it really does make sense that our students 

probably have never learned listening skills.  I would say many of us don't use our listening skills very 

well.  I certainly could use a tune up in my listening skills. :D  Is there a curriculum or exercise that you 

know of that I could pass on to her?


Please respond to this question to help one of your fellow adult educators.  We have 900+ group members, quite a few of which have already posted a question or comment.  Is today the day that you will post your first message?  

Also, just as a reminder, all group members should update their profiles and add a picture, if they haven't already done so.


Rochelle Kenyon, SME



Rochelle and others,

There is a wide range of skills and meanings that we might refer to as listening. For example,

  • Literally the ability to hear
  • Being absorbed by what one is hearing, as in "She can't hear you; she's listening to her music"
  • The ability to listen attentively, for example, to focus on understanding what someone is saying rather on how to formulate a reply, day dreaming, or thinking about something else
  • The ability to correctly interpret what one is listening to
  • Understanding, agreeing and acting on what one hears, as in "Now, you're listening to me", meaning "You are doing what I want you to"
  • Interpreting or analyzing one's metacognitive or emotional response to what is being heard
  • Reading text by listening to it being read out loud
  • and many others.

I have some thoughts about the ability to correctly interpret what one is listening to. Many years ago I was in the town of Oshogbo in Western Nigeria, and I was invited to attend an evening drumming session, outdoors, in the light of a full moon. These were so-called "talking drums," an hourglass shape with strings fastened to the head and base so that when they were compressed with one's arm they would tighten the skin and change the relative pitch. I do not speak Yoruba, the language of the drummers. I enjoyed the complexity of rhythms and changes in pitch, but I did not understand what I was listening to. Later, I talked with the Nigerian friend who had invited me, an elder poet who understood "deep Yoruba." He explained that the drummers were actually poets, that they were drumming lines of poetry. Since Yoruba is a language where changes in relative pitch signal differences in meaning, using a kind of longhand a talking drum can communicate meaning. In this case, the poets were drumming out what we might call proverbs, each from an oral collection of well-known, time-honored proverbs, passed down from generations. My friend explained that there were some expected ways that these proverbs might be linked, and that some of the best poets broke these rules, combining proverbs in unexpected ways, creating new meanings and depths of meaning. As some might put it, I could listen to the drumming but I could not "hear" it, could not understand the depth of its meaning.

I also have some thoughts about reading text by listening to it being read out loud. I know expert readers, with great vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency, who have phenomenal reading speed as well, but who cannot decode text. These are bright, determined, people who are also severely dyslexic. Does that mean they cannot read? No, they can read, if by reading we mean getting meaning from text. They "aud" text. That is, they have text read aloud, and most often now they have speech synthesizers read digital text aloud to them, and they control the speed at which it is read. Some read extremely fast; they have their synthesizers set at speeds so high I, with my poor auding skills, cannot comprehend much of what I hear at all; they, however, with their well-honed auding skills, comprehend very well. Interestingly, more dyslexic adults, particularly younger ones, are finding this as a useful way to read.

I have some questions about auding for the readers here:

1. Should auding devices be available to everyone, including to those who text-read but who prefer to read, or read better if they can aud text?

2. Should the ability to aud text be considered a justice issue?

3. Should auding be part of universal design in education?

4. How about for standardized tests? Should test-takers be required to prove a reading disability to get accommodations like auding, or should this routinely be provided to anyone who prefers it?

Did any of these ideas and questions about auding "strike a chord" or "set off an alarm"? If so, I am eager to hear your thoughts about this.

David J. Rosen




Hi David,

Thanks for your usually informative message.  I hope that it answers the question of the member who emailed me.

Is there a discussion on Listening Skills going on now in any of the LINCS Community Group?  I did see that there was conversation on Listening Skills on the NLA Discussion List.  I am copying several messages from that discussion below:


From Catherine.... The importance of knowledge and meaning making in both auding and reading. I recall an old homily: You got to know something to
learn something. Catherine follows this back to the newly conceived infant in the womb. So the question is, if it takes knowledge to learn something
what knowledge does the newly conceived infant have?  I have speculated that the genes from Mom and Pop contain information that, in some sense,
consists of the knowledge about what the world is like and the genes use this knowledge to grow our senses…skin to feel with, ears to hear with, eyes to see with, etc. The knowledge that there is light in our world and that that light can be broken up into various wavelengths of red, green, and yellow and then used to construct all other colors is incorporated into the construction of our eyes with rods and cones that respond to the different information in the light that arrives in the form of different wavelengths. In short, we are conceived with knowledge of the world. That provides the old knowledge used to learn new knowledge as our senses exploit the information in the energy systems of which the world is constructed. With regard to language, hearing starts in the womb and is the outcome of the automatic operation of our auditory system for using the information in the mechanical energy that rolls across the hair cells in our ears where the information from short and longer wavelengths of mechanical energy are construed by our brains as sounds. This sort of speculative analysis can, does, and has gone on for many centuries and, as Catherine has suggested, is a bit much for our list discussion. But it is fun!

From Michael...... Michael brought up a point that has been the basis for much work on the assessment of reading. Michael said, “It's one matter not to
comprehend text because one does not have the requisite background knowledge …. it's quite another matter when one can comprehend aurally what
- on the other hand - one cannot comprehend when interacting with text.”  Assessing the relationship between the ability to comprehend vocabulary,
sentences, or paragraphs by auding in contrast to one’s ability to  comprehend the same or comparable material by reading has formed the basis
for a number of tests, including the Durrell Listening and Reading Series, the Spache Diagnostic Reading Scales, and the Literacy Assessment Battery
developed by colleagues and myself. The general idea is that, if someone has a pretty good ability to aud paragraphs and answer questions about it
but then lacks the ability to read the same sort of material and answer questions, then that person is a pretty good candidate for some decoding
education (phonemics, phonics) and training to close the gap between their auding and their reading abilities. In several studies with adult literacy
students, such assessments have revealed that, on average, adults with poorly developed reading comprehension ability have not shown much higher
ability to comprehend by auding. But of course, individuals may differ in this regard and some, such as John Corcoran, the teacher who could not
read, had a high auding ability but lacked fluent decoding skills. When his decoding skills were developed, his reading comprehension jumped up highly
to match his auding ability.

From David..... David brought up the use of technology to provide information in audio form for listening and auding and use this to substitute for or
enhance one’s reading ability. I worked on using auding as a substitute for reading with blind students and I did a fair amount of research on the
listening and auding abilities or low skilled adult readers. On this and other LINCS discussion lists over the years the use of technology for
substituting auding for reading has been discussed anecdotally, particularly as an accommodation for learning disabled adults, but overall I have found only a smattering of research to improve the actual listening and auding abilities of lower skilled, adult literacy students.

Tom Sticht