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The role of the teacher and the learner in the development of strategies and sub-skills to facilitate and enhance listening comprehension by Nicola Holmes
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The teacher's role In designing more positive and productive listening tasks and lessons

As with sub-skills and strategies, many attempts have been made to categorise essential criteria to consider when developing listening tasks. In his own five criteria, Richards includes reference to the growing recognition that many traditional listening tasks simply serve to test rather than teach listening skills, and, moreover, that they often demand and test learners' memory rather than their listening skills. (Richards, 1985, pp 202-205). As Vandergrift comments, a methodology to teach listening that moves away from this tendency to test rather than teach could not only prove more effective but also less threatening and stressful to the learner. (Vandergrift, 1999, p174)

This development would also appear to fit quite well with Richards' other criteria of 'purposefulness and transferablility', 'authenticity' and 'content validity'. Tasks that demand meaningful responses to what is heard rather than answers to contrived true/false or written comprehension questions are not only more authentic and closer to real-life L2 listening situations, but also potentially freer and less threatening for the student. Moreover, they can allow for recognition that there is not normally one 'right answer' in a listening situation, what is taken in and understood being greatly a matter of individual priorities and interpretation. As Sheerin comments:

in listening comprehension exercises we should not expect learners to produce answers that are one hundred per cent correct and objective, as though they were walking tape-recorders. with replay possible at the touch of a button. Rather, we should proceed on the basis of requiring from foreign learners a 'reasonable interpretation in the context'.' (Sheerin, 1987, p128, quoting Brown and Yule, 1985: 57- 69)

Ur (1984), Anderson and Lynch (1988) and White (1998) all provide a wealth of examples of activities which can elicit a different kind of response from students and a different level of learner-involvement than traditional comprehension questions. ranging from the expression of personal opinions about and intellectual evaluations of what is heard to be found, for example, in White's 'News values', 'Comparing the news', 'Weather diary', 'Sports temperatures' and 'Radio advertisement' activities, to more concrete, practical responses in activities involving the completion of grids, graphs or diagrams, the selection or ordering of pictures, ticking appropriate responses or following directions on a map proposed by White, Ur and Anderson and Lynch. Ur also makes mention of the use of physical movement in obeying instructions, which forms a central tenet of Asher's Total Physical Response' approach to second language teaching, (Ur, 1984, p S8), and also proposes the use of lego and cuisenaire rods to construct models, or picture dictation, as alternative responses to instructions and descriptions provided in listening texts, thus demonstrating that, as in real-life listening situations, a written response is often neither appropriate nor necessary.

Tasks can also be tailored to individual learners' needs and situations, as with the academic note-taking activities proposed by White and Ur, or the challenges set by White in her Telephone task sheet' for students already living in an English-speaking country, such tasks being in keeping with the general suggestion by White in particular that control be relinquished from teacher to student in the undertaking of activities to practise and develop listening skills. Not only does White advocate giving students control of the audio-visual equipment, but she also encourages them to produce their own audio and video texts, to take responsibility for their own learning and development and to focus more actively not just on the 'product' of providing answers to pre-set comprehension questions but on the 'process' of understanding and interpreting what they hear. White reports very positive results from this approach in terms of her students' progress in and feelings about listening:

'They felt that by giving them more input into, and control of, the listening they did, these kinds of activities removed anxiety and made listening a more enjoyable process. I noticed that a lot more of the class started participating, not just those who thought they know the 'right' answer. I also gained more insight into what my students found difficult or easy in listening.' (White, 1998, p 9)

This diagnostic aspect of the kind of approach advocated by White would appear to provide the key to developing a more systematic, positive and effective method of teaching listening. As Field comments:

'From a process perspective, wrong answers can be seen to be of more significance than correct ones. Instead of judging understanding by the number of learners who answer correctly, teachers need to follow up incorrect responses in order to determine where understanding broke down and then put things right.' (Field, 1998, p lii)

Field proposes that more emphasis be placed on post-listening activites, 'in which gaps in learners' listening skills could be examined and redressed through short micro-listening exercises', and provides a list of sub-skills that could be focused on in these activities and possible exercises to be used to do this, many involving dictation. (Field, 1998, p 112-114). Sheerin also advocates this kind of remedial post-listening activity, observing in particular that 'listening with a transcript is an underrated learning activity and is certainly an important resource for remedial work', and calling for coursebook writers to incorporate in teacher's books a detailed analysis of the different possible responses to each listening task and potential causes of confusion in the text, which could be discussed with the learner in post-listening feedback. (Sheerin, 1998, pp 128 -150)

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