In my career, I’ve known all kinds of listeners: some who take in all of the message, some who only get part of it, and others who need multimodality support to attend and process. Personally, the auditory channel is not my best way to take in information. I need to hear the message more than once to recall the details, have the auditory combined with visual input, or I write it down. Fortunately, I was well taught in the art of note-taking in elementary school so that my notes were salient and well-organized. Note-taking not only provided me with a useful written account of the verbal information that I could review over and over as needed, but also helped me to stay on task and fit the information immediately into a schema, which increased my understanding from the get-go.
Graphic organizers abound for gathering all kinds of information. But before we can teach the skills of winnowing out main ideas and supporting details, separating what is important from what is not, and linking new information to prior knowledge, we first have to get the student to attend. For years, I’ve used “Whole Body Listening” prompts based on the work of Susanne Poulette Truesdale. And apparently, I’m not the only one. A quick search on Teachers Pay Teachers produces a long list of materials based on this strategy.
I love to use books in therapy whenever possible because they combine the auditory with the visual, and engage the students in the topic through stories. Imagine how happy I was, then, to find these two illustrated children’s books by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter: “Whole Body Listening Larry at School!” and “Whole Body Listening Larry at Home!” Both books begin with an explanation to adults about the conceptual basis of using one’s whole body — head to toe — to increase attention through sensory integration, executive functioning, and perspective-taking. This is followed by suggestions on how to use the book to encourage understanding, self-awareness/control, and functional strategies for self-advocacy in listening situations, plus accommodations that can be tried with students who are especially challenged in this area. The story ends with a section on how to teach and implement Whole Body Listening throughout the day with preschool and elementary school students, and includes a coloring page handout to further engage the students.
In the school-based book, twins who are new to the school do not display characteristics of good listeners; indeed, they sometimes interfere with their classmates’ ability to listen. In an effort to help them learn the rules of the school, Larry politely points out how they can listen better and distract others less by active and passive use of their body parts.
In the home-based version, Larry helps his younger sister learn to use Whole Body Listening strategies to be a better communication partner with family members and friends. As in the school-based book, this home version contains information and strategies for parents.
The story lines are simple, the illustrations are engaging, and the approach to Whole Body Listening is consistent. The authors even weave in elements of Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking to help students understand what others are thinking when they do (or don’t) apply Whole Body Listening strategies. I love that there are two versions that can be used simultaneously to encourage carryover and generalization. The fact that parents and teachers will be using the same vocabulary and prompts will surely help young children internalize the expected listening behaviors. Once students have improved their ability to listen, the work on processing and recall can begin.
One caveat to keep in mind: I have had students for whom looking at the speaker is actually a distraction for them. I remember one little guy in particular who was continually being prompted by the teacher to “look at me, look at me” when she was reading books to the class and giving directions. We instituted a 10-question, multiple choice with symbols follow-up quiz after each weekly story that I read as part of their classroom therapy. The scores went up on all of the students over time, except for the little guy who was getting frequent prompts to pay attention. The teacher and I decided to ignore his looking at the ceiling or the pattern on the rug to see if that made a difference. Lo and behold, it did! When left to look wherever he wanted, he actually took in more information than when he was prompted to “use his eyes to listen.” This is just another reminder that children have different learning styles, and the wise educators will tune into and accommodate for those differences.
“Whole Body Listening Larry at School!” and “Whole Body Listening Larry at Home” are available through Make Social Learning Stick!