Writing for Ears

I have been doing some research for a MOOC I will be teaching with Erik Palmer and Corbin Moore this summer. Teaching Speaking & Listening Skills will launch June 20th on the Canvas Network. Like most teachers, I assign speeches and presentations within my instructional program and I am almost always disappointed by how poorly my students listen to each other and how little they gain from their colleagues’ presentations. This is because I rarely give them directions on how I want them to listen and what I want them to listen for.

This post asks questions about how teachers can inspire their students to Write for Ears. Specifically, what writing tasks teach students to listen? TED speaker Julian Treasure has an excellent primer that explains why we are losing our listening.

Even though most of us spend the majority of our day listening, it is the communication activity that receives the least instruction in school (Coakley & Wolvin, 1997). Research suggests that listening while reading helps people have successful reading events, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy. This also helps with decoding, a fundamental part of reading. The average person talks at a rate of about 125 – 175 words per minute, while we listen at up to 450 words per minute (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970).

Imhof (1998) found students do not have a clear concept of listening as an active process and they often find it easier to criticize the speaker as opposed to the speaker’s message. Conaway (1982) demonstrated how listening skills are crucial to academic success by giving a listening test to a freshman class of over 400 students at the beginning of their first semester of college. After their first year of studies, 49% of students scoring low on the listening test were on academic probation. Conversely, 69% of those scoring high on the listening test were considered Honors students after the first year. Only 4% of those scoring high on the listening test were on academic probation.

Similar findings have been replicated in other studies, on average, viewers who just watched and listened to the evening news can only recall 17.2% of the content. Timm & Schroeder (2000) showed that listening and nonverbal communication training significantly influences multicultural sensitivity. Further, listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek. Despite this, schools, districts and assessment consortia have turned a deaf ear to this important skill. What strategies and techniques have you found helpful in improving listening comprehension?

Active Listening

Don’t miss our #TeachWriting chat on April 5, 2016 at 6pm PT. Where we chat about the following issues in increasing the listening comprehension of our students.

08: Q1 What prevents our students from becoming good listeners?

14: Q2 What are common misconceptions students have about listening?

20: Q3 How can you use audio to increase literacy skills in your classroom?

26: Q4 What listening objectives are most frequently used in your class/discipline?
Photo-Card w/ Mead (1978)

  1. to recall significant details;
  2. to comprehend main ideas;
  3. to draw inferences about information;
  4. to make judgments concerning the speaker (e.g.,attitude, intent, bias, credibility);
  5. to make judgments about the information (e.g., type, evidence, logic, arguments)

32: Q5 What types of listening activities can help students improve their writing skills?

38: Q6 What writing assignments do you use with songs & speeches?

45: Q7 What strategies/games can Ts use so that Ss actively listen to their peers’ presentations?

52: Q8 What writing assignments have you created that teach listening skills?

I look forward to hearing how you are teaching your students to listen. Dust off the lessons you have used to help students improve their listening skills with writing and get ready to share. Thanks to www.listen.org for a great collection of listening facts.

Improving Historical Writing

This post contains resources from a presentation on improving feedback on student writing for the California Council for the Social Studies 55th annual conference on March 5, 2016.

Leading students through a peer review process is always effective as students very rarely see how they are writing in relation to their peers. Using a criteria chart can help them see what key information is missing in their writing. I take my lecture notes from the French Revolution and organize them by each component from the writing prompt. Here is a collection of research and articles on

My next step after leading students through some self-reflection and a peer review process is to get them to use a number of free robo-readers. Here is a collection of research and articles on automated essay scoring (AES). The trick is getting students to synthesize the feedback they have received from their peers and the computer and organize it into a revision memo. I have posted some examples of revision memos that my students have turned in.

I have another collection to help teachers provide meaningful feedback. For those of you willing to read educational research, here is an excellent paper by Hattie & Timperley on The Power of Feedback. Thanks for attending my session,  don’t forget our unconference-EdCamp tomorrow morning from 8:00 am – 10:00 am in Emerald Bay 2 & 3.

Engaging ELs & Reluctant Writers

ccs sconf

Ruth Luevanos and I teamed up to give a presentation on Engaging English Learners and Reluctant Writers for the California Council for the Social Studies 55th annual conference in Orange County. Our seminar demonstrates high-interest writing techniques that increase the amount of historical content teachers can cover. Please find resources below for using first person research papers, MEAL paragraphs, rhyming tweet-a-thons, six-word stories, and timeline transitions. All of these techniques help students with writing deficits develop positive attitudes about writing.

Many of my high school students use Twitter in their social lives. Social Media is also called micro-blogging. It’s actually writing. Tweeting helps students learn to summarize and write succinctly. Tired of vocabulary foldables try six-word definitions instead. Want to make sure your students understand a concept create a tweet-a-thon and they will find experts who correct their misconceptions.

Getting students to ask questions and engage in Social Studies activities can sometimes be difficult. I use elements of the flipped classroom and assign video lectures to students. This year, I have used Zaption to check for understanding during the videos and have found using open-ended questions can get students to ask their own questions.

Using the timelines in your textbook can be a great way to teach students how to use transitions.

MEAL and RAFT paragraphs are techniques that focus students on their argument and content. This allows the teacher to address any misconceptions immediately before they have written a five paragraph essay or longer paper.

First Person Research Paper

Worried about assigning research papers because of plagiarism concerns? This approach from Cindy Heckenlaible requires students to write strong historical narratives that showcase their research abilities.

Long used in elementary and middle schools to help students with Learning Disabilities (LD), SRSD is now being used with English Language Learners (ELLs) in some high schools. More than 40 studies have validated SRSD as an instructional model for teaching writing to students with writing deficits. Studies of history classrooms reveal that writing instruction of any kind is uncommon, even among exemplary teachers. Thus, student essays tend to list facts rather than argue claims, leave arguments unexplained, and only draw on evidence sporadically. SRSD Instruction in History can improve student writing.


If you attend the conference make sure you attend our lunch and honor our awesome Social Studies teachers.


Book Project Examples

My favorite part of the year is when I sit back and allow my students to present their Independent Book Projects. This year, they spent six weeks reading a novel or non-fiction book about WWI. A popular option was a “book trailer” where students create a teaser that will motivate others to read their book. Other students did traditional models, powerpoints, essays, and one even contributed an epic poem about Johnny Got His Gun. Never underestimate your students’ creativity.