Innovation Spotlight: Listenwise Asks Students to “Lend Me Your Ears”
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Interviewee: Chelsea Murphy, Marketing Manager
The weather outside may still be hot and humid, but fall is technically upon us. School is back in session, and as students gather in the classroom, it’s important to consider what kind of lessons they are learning.
These days, many classrooms focus on reading comprehension skills while listening skills fall to the wayside. However, research has shown that a person’s listening comprehension can generally sit about 2-3 grade levels higher their reading skills. Listenwise, an award-winning listening skills platform that focuses on bringing high quality content to classrooms, believes that by developing students’ listening comprehension skills, developing other comprehension skills can be made easier.
“We want to set students up for success in their education, career, and life by building great listeners,” says Chelsea Murphy, Listenwise’s Marketing Manager. The way they approach this goal is through curating NPR stories and building lesson plans around it. As NPR’s only education partner, they are in a unique position that enables them to bring interesting and topical stories to K-12 environments. And because NPR’s content is high-quality, rigorous, engaging, and factual, it helps bring the real world to the classroom in a way that they may not get outside of school.
Each one of Listenwise’s lessons features many of the same topics that students are already hearing about in the news, but might not necessarily be discussing in the classroom. Right now, they have over 1,000 public radio broadcast stories with built out lesson plans, and their content archive contains stories for subjects that focus on Science, ELA (English and Language Arts), and Social Studies. It’s Listenwise’s goal to bring these stories into the classroom as a platform for students to learn, while at the same time creating a space where teachers can facilitate thoughtful discussion. Murphy believes that Listenwise can do this across multiple grade levels because even though NPR articles are often formatted for adults, they are written in a way that is clear and narratively-driven. This makes them accessible to children, which means the information can be passed along to students without dumbing it down.
Because Listenwise’s lessons are built for all students, they’ve taken extra measures to make sure that the lessons are understandable and even helpful for students learning English for the first time or who may suffer from learning disabilities. Not only can they follow along with the transcripts, but lessons can also be played at a slower speed to make following the speech easier. This gives students a way to hear how words are pronounced, as well as see how those words are spelled. Used together, these tools can provide excellent support for anyone who struggles with reading.
But quality content is not the only tool that Listenwise supplies to teachers. Because standardized testing is still the most common way to track student progress, and 16 states now test listening skills, Listenwise added a Listening Comprehension Quiz to their curriculum this past January. This tool is an automatically scored, 5 question, multiple choice quiz that comes paired with stories and lessons. Students listen to one of over 100 stories, read along with the transcript, then take a quiz on the article they just heard. These quizzes are structured very similarly to reading comprehension tests and focus heavily on making sure students understand the overarching themes to a story, enabling them to demonstrate what they have both absorbed and inferred from the material. Want to test your listening skills? See how well you can listen and try out your listening skills here.
One of the great things about Listenwise is that the tool is accessible in almost every learning environment. All of Listenwise’s content and tools are uploaded digitally to listenwise.com, so the only additional resource you need is WiFi. Any student can pull it up on their smartphone or tablet or laptop, so no matter what technology a teacher is using, everyone can access it. This means that teachers can use it as a full collaborative lesson and project the transcript for kids to learn together, or they can use it as part of 1 to 1 activity. But according to Murphy, the place where Listenwise shines the best is in a quiet places, like computer labs, where students can put headphones on and focus on the content. Here are some additional guidelines for teaching listening.
But schools are really only a seasonal sort of market, being in session for only part of the year. So what does Listenwise do when school is not in session? During the summers, Murphy says that she focuses on what has and hasn’t worked with their content and marketing strategies, and brainstorms ways to build upon the last year’s success and challenges. She troubleshoots issues that have cropped up over the previous year to try and get things pointed in the right direction. “I think the toughest thing is just figuring out marketing-wise what is the best way to go,” she says. “There’s no necessary right or wrong here, but we really do have to figure out where we want to focus our energy and really push on for the coming months.”
Part of that is working to build out their listening comprehension quizzes. In order to follow and track how they can prove growth in the students’ listening comprehension, they are rigorously beta testing and analyzing the data they receive from early adopters. Murphy says that, at least through anecdotal feedback, some classes have already seen improved scores on standardized tests. Data shows practicing listening with Listenwise works! They have found that 6th grade students in Paicoma, CA who used Listenwise in 2017 performed 14% higher on the listening component of the CAASPP than 7th and 8th grade students who did not use Listenwise. She and the team hope to continue to back that up with increasingly solid performance data over the next school year.
Interested in the idea? Not an educator or student? That’s OK. Although Listenwise is currently marketed towards teachers and classroom administrators, anyone can sign up for free on listenwise.com. For adults looking to add a little extra learning to their day, there is plenty of free content available on the website. She invites people who are not teachers to come and listen, and to pass their experience on to those who are. Each story is easy to digest and takes about 3-8 minutes to listen to, so while they may not fill up a commute, they may be just the thing to help your mind refocus during coffee breaks.
For people who are looking to fill those long commutes to and from work, Murphy recommends This American Life, which she feels is a great overall podcast. She also recommends NPR’s Hidden Brain for its great storytelling, and for those interested in business, she says that the Gimlet Media’s StartUp podcast is a great way to go. This podcast goes behind the scenes of various different startups, and it features a bunch of different companies, which she has found to be super helpful and full of really great content. If you want even more podcast ideas – listen to what the Listenwise team’s favorite podcasts are!
Listenwise is at the helm of a new movement in real world education. Although many people feel that learning ends when you graduate from school, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to. People who are incredibly successful in life are those who never stop learning, and by teaching our children to be good listeners, to think critically about what’s happening both in the news and the world around us, we can build a better future and set future generations up for success.