If a good man or woman is hard to find, a good listener is damn near impossible.
Though this particular blog entry is primarily inspired by my course lectures, I think y’all might find some benefit in it.
Why? I love good listeners. They are so rare. Thus, as a Communication Studies professor, I suppose if I do not meet a lot of good listeners it is my duty to try and create them on my own with creative teaching strategies…and now blog strategies. It is in this spirit I share the following.
It was my first semester teaching at Crafton Hills College when I asked students in my Public Speaking course to deliver an impromptu speech on something strange or unusual that has happened to them. A young, very innocent looking student began with her story about taking some type of hallucinogenic drug at a Redlands party.
Shortly after taking the drug (which was never precisely identified….though perhaps my experienced-drug-taking blog followers can figure it out) a large golden snake appeared before her and began speaking with her. The snake instructed her to follow him (her? Snake gender was never identified). The young lady began to follow the snake throughout the party from room to room. The snake then went outside and took her down the block.
After weaving aimlessly throughout the block, the golden snake took her to her car and while slithering on the front hood, the snake continued to provide directions as she drove following the snakes instruction, giving new meaning to the GPS (Golden Positioning Snake?). When the golden snake finally disappeared and she came to, she realized that she was at a Denny’s restaurant somewhere in Arizona, some hundreds of miles away from her original California destination.
True? Bullshit? I cannot say for sure though I do know whether it is true or not I stumbled onto a wonderful and effective metaphor for teaching listening.
As she relayed the story, it occurred to me that this golden snake incident is analogous for what goes on in my student’s minds as I lecture. They begin to lose focus and begin following a “golden snake” of wandering thoughts and ideas.
To demonstrate, while listening to a lecture I may use the word hamburger. A student’s thought then might be directed to how hungry they are, which causes them to think of lunch plans, which causes them to think of texting a friend to go to lunch with, which reminds them of my “no text” class policy, which gets them to consider whether to risk breaking the class policy, which works to remind them how they are not a risk-taker at heart though perhaps should start, which prompts the idea of creating a bucket list and are reminded of their lifelong desire to parachute.
From hamburgers to parachutes in under 10 seconds.
All this while the poor bastard professor (me) stands in front lecturing, doing all in my power to hold student attention, as they mentally follow the dreaded golden snake to Denny’s in Arizona. In tension indeed.
Increasing ADD and technological-driven reasons among “digital natives” aside, there is a physiological reason for such mental wandering behavior. Depending on what source you want to subscribe, the average person can only speak about 150 words per minute while the average person can comprehend -think– at upwards of, low estimate, 350 words, to a high estimate, of 1200 “wpm.”
Thus the mind has so much free time to wander in and out of thoughts and follow the illusory golden snake.
I have found that by assigning a stark image to a daily “invisible” activity students are able to more readily recognize it happening and begin to slay the snake with more focused attention and improved listening skills. If you must fill those empty mental voids, they must be filled with questions concerning the subject matter and mental anticipation of what is coming next.
Of course good listening begins with genuine motivation. And, truth be told, many of us are poor listeners because we do not care enough about what is being said to provide adequate motivation.
That, or perhaps more of us should just attend parties in Redlands.