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Developing Active Listening Skills in Special Education

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Maximizing active listening skills for students in your Special Education classroom can lead to an open line of communication that cannot be underestimated.This article offers tips on how you can improve your listening skills as an educator, therefore teaching your students how to improve theirs!

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    Active Listening Tips

    Active listening skills play an especially important role when dealing with students in Special Education. They cannot overcome even the simplest of obstacles if they cannot communicate with their teachers. Teachers in Special Education Classes should make active listening an activity to practice daily. Below are some tips and activities to help promote listening skills in Special Education classrooms.

    • Body Language: Body language has the first effect on listening skills. Those who cannot hear what you are saying are especially sensitive to your body language. It is the source of the beginning of their interpretation of your communication. Be sure to promote an open posture so that your students know you are listening and approachable.
    • Eye contact: Making eye contact with a person shows them that your listening skills are focused on them at that moment. One thing to remember is that you can always listen better at eye level. Standing over someone can intimidate them and limit what they will express to you. When directing the classroom, standing taller than your students conveys a sense of authority. However, when a student wants to speak directly to you, it's best to squat or sit down so that you are at the same level as them. This is an often overlooked listening skill, but is especially important in the Special Education classroom where students may already have a self esteem that makes them feel "lower" than others.
    • Hand Gestures: Pay attention to hand gestures that your students make as well as the ones you make. Palms pushing outward are a classic sign of refusal. For instance, if you are speaking to one of your Special Education students, another student may interrupt them. If you gesture palm outward for them to wait, it may come off as abrasive and may limit the amount of contact that student makes with you in the future. Facing the Special Education student and communicating in a gentle manner that you will speak with them in a moment conveys the message that you are busy, but that you recognize the importance of their concerns and will address them momentarily.
    • Voice Inflection: For your Special Education students who are visually impaired, it is crucial for you to pay attention to your voice inflections as part of the development of your listening skills. This student cannot see your body language, so they are basing their conversation with you on sounds alone. A hurried response can convey that you don't have time for them. A sigh can convey a multitude of messages and none of them are good!
    • Music: Never underestimate the power of music in developing your listening skills. Even students with hearing impairments can benefit from music. They may not be able to hear it, but they can certainly feel it. Some Special Education students with hearing impairments may also have problems with speech. They may enjoy the use of music to express their emotions.
    • Atmosphere: Always do your best to maintain a calm atmosphere. This makes it easy for students to approach you and for you to communicate with them. If you are unable to leave the classroom for a private conference, you may want to consider developing an area of the classroom that is reserved for private conversations. Make sure the other students are occupied doing an activity while you hold a private conference. This will limit distractions and allow you to focus on what your student has to say.
    • Words: Words can convey messages that were not intended. When you overuse words that convey negative messages, you are teaching your students to do the same. One good example is the word "can't." How many times in a day do you use that word? Do you allow your students to say "But I can't!"? If so, you are setting the tone for their future. Eliminating certain words in the Special Education classroom not only helps to eliminate negative thoughts, but in the process forces you and your students to expand the vocabulary and the ideas that accompany it!

    Always keep in mind that while your Special Education students are with you, you are their role model and caretaker. Making sure that you have developed your active listening skills in such a manner as to always appear approachable ensures that your students know from the beginning that they can count on you to use your listening skills and hear what they have to say!