What happens when we work on listening?

Last year, Leigh-ann, a first grade teacher at our school, asked me if I could come in and help her think about strengthening her partnerships. Together, we explored read aloud and whole class conversations as an avenue towards tackling this big work

This year, we had the opportunity to attend a phenomenal day at Teachers College, lead by Amanda Hartman and Christine Holley. The title of the workshop was “How Can Our Work with Talk Tap into the Similarities Between Listening Well and Comprehending.” The workshop was advertised for first and second grade teachers, but I have returned to my learning from that day for my work across grades K-5. 

In November, Leigh-ann and I shared some of take-aways during district wide professional development with grades one and three. Most recently, we leveraged this work during a faculty meeting with our K-5 staff, focusing on test taking strategies and read aloud as a method of instruction for layering in language and vocabulary work.

As a result of these opportunities to share, I had several teachers reach out to me to study talk and partnerships during a two week January mini coaching cycle. So for the next few weeks, I’m scheduled in most of our second grade classrooms during their read aloud blocks.

I’ve kicked off this work, sharing my own experiences with turn and talking. I tell the kids, that even in teacher workshops, we’re asked to turn and talk all the time. “Sometimes. I just listen to my partner patiently. But really, I can’t wait to share my own ideas. Does the ever happen to you?” I’ve asked the kids. I catch them kind of scanning their friends and eyeing their teacher before they slowly start to nod.

Then I share that being the “listening partner” is actually a great responsibility. Being the listening partner allows us to show our partners we really care about them and what they have to say. Being the listening partner can also help us to grow our ideas…together. Our thinking can actually get better if we listen to one another.

Next, I’ve shared an anchor chart with some beginning ways we can keep conversations going. We can say more by saying things like, “I agree/disagree because…” or “I can add on…” We can also ask questions, such as “What makes you think that?” or “Why is that important?”


On Thursday, the first day back from winter break, I was ending the day in a second grade classroom. I had brought along The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. In this story, Taylor is dealing with the aftermath of a failed block masterpiece. Several animal characters come along to offer advise, but nothing seems to help. Until a sweet rabbit comes along and shows us the power of listening.


To prepare for the read aloud, I plotted post-its along the way- places to stop and have partners share their thinking, pretend to be the characters, and focus in on the problems. At the end of the book, I listened in to a near by partnership who pondered the lessons we can learn from this simple, yet powerful story. “I think the rabbit teaches us sometimes you can help someone just by listening,” David quickly shared with his partner.

I waited to see how his partner would respond. He sat there staring at his partner blankly. I gestured to the anchor chart. “How can you keep the conversation going?” I prompted.

The partner glanced up at the chart and appeared to read off the first post-it that caught his eye. “Why do you think that’s important?” he read.

I watched as David squirmed a bit on the rug as he thought about this question, there was visible thinking happening. “It’s about kindness,” he said after a few moments. “Sometimes you must need to know someone cares enough to listen to you. It shows kindness.”

In my notes from my day with Amanda Hartman at Teachers College, I wrote, “In primary grades (I’d bet this is also true in all grades), it’s important to develop and encourage active listening. How to develop listening and awareness of others across the day. Back and forth with humans creates neurological pathways and language structures. How many back and forths do we have? Have many do kids have? How can we create more exchange?”

From my work in classrooms, I know that this exchange does not always come naturally, or easily.  But I believe it is worth the effort. These exchanges grow ideas and kinder humans.






6 thoughts on “What happens when we work on listening?

  1. While I have done partner work coaching and collaborative conversation work, your approach is totally fresh. Can’t wait to borrow this and head into some classrooms. Thanks so much, Jess.


  2. What a fabulous slice! From you learning at TC, to your collaboration with Leigh-ann and then to the work with kids! So true that we all need to work on listening to grow our own kindness! This whole slice reminds me of the town meeting this morning when buddies had to share what their buddy said! The building the exchange is such big work and I for one am glad you are leading it with our kids and teachers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s about kindness
    though sometimes
    we forget
    and need to be reminded
    by the child, listening
    to our words, perhaps
    more carefully than
    we say them

    — a poem in response to your lovely post (and maybe a poem for the president)

    Liked by 1 person

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