Could You Repeat That, Please?

Earlier this week I tried an experiment with the children whom I teach, to find out how much they actually listen to me.

I asked them, some time during a lesson, to stop what they were doing, put down their pencils, and listen to me. Then I said a simple word or sentence in Swedish, and thereafter ask someone to repeat what I’d just said. If that person did not know I’d ask another, and so on until I was given the correct answer. Nearly all the classes passed the experiment on the 5th or 6th attempt.

In a couple of the classes I changed the word after the 2nd or 3rd failed attempt. I noticed that when they realised they were not listening they appeared to become more attentive, and I wanted to know how much of a bearing this “renewed” attentiveness would have on the test.

I obviously expected a better success rate having given them a second chance, but even then it would require a further two or three attempts on their part.

So, why is it that many of the children pay little or no attention to what we teachers say (this is a problem that many of the other teachers in my school experience, at least in the lower years)? I think it is a reliance on the nature of teachers. We want/must try to make sure that everyone understands the instructions of an exercise, and we are willing to repeat ad infinitum until understood by all. A child who does not listen can simply put up his/her hand and receive a personal explanation. So, why bother to listen when required?

I should like to see if their attentiveness can be increased by a twofold plan. Firstly, I shall continue with the “pop-questions”, which will pressure them into listening; secondly, I shall train them by only issuing instructions once. Those who do not listen (understanding is another matter, and the difference is easily heard in the children) shall have to sit there silently while the others carry out the exercise.

The most difficult part of this plan is to remember not to be the crutch they rely on, and stand fast in my decision to give clear, concise instructions once, and only once.