Larry King, the famous host of the TV series Larry King Live, once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” When engaged in a conversation with another person, most of us think we’re listening when in fact we are waiting for our turn to speak, hearing the words of the person flash by us but not paying attention to them or absorbing their meaning. There is a difference between hearing and paying attention. In an era when interactions with the Internet and IPhones absorb so much of our time, we notice that attention and focus are much harder to sustain. Since attention is essential to listening and learning, students must develop the skill of listening just as they develop ways to take notes and study for exams. Also, strong listening skills help us develop better speaking skills by learning to control the flow of communication between two people and among a group of people.
Watch this TED Talks video to understand why learning ways to improve listening skills is important to all of us.
If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player. If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view: https://youtu.be/cSohjlYQI2A
Comprehension Check: Test your ability to recall important information from the listening skills video by answering these questions. If you can’t remember the answers, watch the video and look for the correct answers.
Sitting through a two-hour lecture might be the greatest test of a student’s attention span, especially if the lecturer doesn’t use visual aids, humor, or interesting stories as examples in the presentation. There are ways to strengthen listening skills by becoming an active listener—a skill that will help us pay attention even to the dullest speaker.
To prepare to listen actively, spend the time waiting for class to begin by rereading notes from the previous session. Often in courses such as history and philosophy, a new lecture starts where the previously lecture ended, and unless the lecturer spends some time in review, students will feel lost without a mental focus upon which to anchor the new information. Rereading previous notes not only provides an anchor but also narrows our focus, reeling in the brain from such distractions as our own inner thoughts or commotion in the classroom.
Another preparation technique is to perform a quick meditation. The one-minute meditation is a skill that can be mastered with a little practice, and its uses are limitless. Not only does it help us focus in the present moment but meditation strengthens attention span by teaching us to ignore distractions. Meditation is easy if we focus on our breath and use counting to creating that focus: inhale on a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, exhale slowly on a count of 8, and repeat these steps three times.
If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player. If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view: https://youtu.be/F6eFFCi12v8
Self-Regulation Check: After watching this video, take a minute and jot down a few ways you could use the one-moment meditation during times of stress in your life. Now commit to using this practice on a daily basis this week. Make a note in your day planner on Friday or Saturday to count the number of times you used the one-moment meditation or the breath-counting exercise during the week. If you didn’t use it at all, make a point to do it at least three times in the next 24 hours.
Quick Write: Take two minutes and respond to these questions: Do you think people enjoy engaging in conversations with you? Do friends initiate contact with you, call you on the phone to chat, or ask for your advice? Are you usually the one to end an interaction, or do you find people trying to escape from you while you’re still talking to them?
Becoming a good conversationalist is an art form. It involves learning a craft, but the good news is that it can be learned if we practice the skills used by good conversationalists. Typically, extroverts like to dominate the conversation with topics that interest them or with anecdotes about their own lives. Although these topics are stimulating to the speaker, they may be boring the audience to death.
If you want to get someone to like you, be interested not interesting. Here are tips for becoming an interested conversationalist:
It may surprise you that nearly half of our
Watch this video from The Big Bang Theory. After watching it for fun, watch it again and write down all the elements of active listening that Sheldon ignores during his conversation with Leonard. What steps does Leonard perform to try to improve the conversation?
If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player. If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view: https://youtu.be/-O18rYBieww
You’ve heard it for years from your high school teachers, from your parents, and now from your college professors. They all echo that constant nagging command: “You need to take notes during class!” And, even after this repetitive attack on the senses, many students (and hopefully you are not one of them) still refuse to even think of putting pen or pencil to paper during the daily lecture. Unfortunately, these same students often struggle during test time and end up with a less-than-favorable grade in the class. Has this happened to you? Could taking notes actually help you become more successful in college?
Before I bore you with yet another lecture on why note taking is important, I need to ask you a question. Why take notes? Why even bother purchasing a spiral for your classes? And, while we are on this shopping spree (or lack thereof), why bother purchasing the textbook? Why even bother with college? I know I’ve strayed a bit here from my main point, but you can see how one may lead to another. In order to save you from being too overwhelmed at this point (you’re welcome), we will just talk about note taking here. I’ll save the rest of these topics for your Strategies instructor.
Believe it or not, we care about your academic success. While there are still some students who feel that college instructors are simply out to play a childish game of “Gotcha!” with your grade point average, it’s just not true. In fact, many people become professors for the sole reason of helping someone else along in their academic journey. And, lucky you, I am here to help you with note taking. When you take notes in class, you become an active participant in that class. Your participation demonstrates that you are serious about your education, and your instructors will appreciate this more than you know. Also, when you take notes, it provides a clear method of study for any pop quiz or exam. Instead of forcing yourself to remember every single detail (which is nearly impossible in some classes), the notes do all of the “thinking” for you.
Notes, in any form, will help you recall important information when necessary. Sure, the textbook can provide you with some valuable material too. But, how many of you have an instructor who does not lecture directly from the book? How many of you have an instructor who likes to “tell stories” in class rather than present a straight lecture? Certainly by now you have noticed that every instructor teaches in their own way. Your job is to identify their style, figure out what information is important, and make sure that information is in your notes. Now, while no one note taking “style” is better than another, I want to share a few tips with you here:
Now that you have a few tips for better note taking, I have another question for you. How do you take notes? In other words, what style do you follow? Whenever I ask this question, I usually receive blank stares and surprised gasps at the very notion of different note taking styles. But, believe me, there are plenty from which to choose. One of the more popular methods is called “Cornell Notes.” This method forces you to stay organized during class lecture, and it provides an excellent way to study. Below is a helpful handout, and then two videos about Cornell Notes:
If the Cornell Method doesn’t resonate with you, there are some other options to consider.
Okay, you have just read several paragraphs about taking better notes in the classroom. And, after all this, you are still not convinced that any of these methods will actually work for you. Fair enough. Let me ask you another question. Do you like to draw? I’m not taking about Picasso-level material here. Do you let your mind just go blank and start drawing random stick figures on the page while your instructor goes on and on about the daily topic? What about doodling? You know, that practice that was so rudely squashed in high school when your teachers thought you weren’t paying any attention to them. Well…maybe you weren’t. But, there is a way that you can still draw or doodle during class and make it a productive exercise. This is called “visual notetaking,” and it involves everything from small doodles in the margin to large “mind maps” that fill the page. Maybe if taking notes the old-fashioned way doesn’t work for you, you might try this method.
Here are some helpful websites and resources that discuss “visual notetaking” a bit more:
Using either the Cornell method or another suggested route, take a moment to watch the following TED Talk by Jane McGonigal. In the talk, she will provide some information about video games and why she feels they are important.
It will be your job to “capture” (what you consider to be) the most important information. After the video ends, use your notes to answer the questions, which can be accessed by clicking on the link above.
“Gaming Can Make A Better World” (Jane McGonigal, TED 2010)
If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player. If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world
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