Phrases like “pay attention” and “listen carefully” ring out in classrooms across the country. Moms, dads, and other caregivers can be heard saying some version of these same words to children everywhere. Paying attention and listening to others are not only considered essential for social communication, but also for learning to be part of a group and for academic success. In fact, these skills are clearly outlined in the Common Core Learning Standards that teachers use to grade their students.
Although we can easily agree that the ability to listen is important, listening involves more than “hearing” with our ears. So how is this multi-layered skill best taught? To make listening more concrete and teachable, speech pathologist Susanne Poulette Truesdale (1990) came up with a powerful, and now very popular, concept known as “whole body listening.” This innovative tool breaks down the abstract concept of listening by explaining how each body part other than the ears is involved: the brain thinking about what is being said; the eyes looking at or toward the speaker; the mouth quiet; the body facing toward the speaker; and the hands and feet quiet and kept to oneself. In a more recent article (2013) Truesdale stresses that the most critical part of whole body listening takes place in the brain. She states that “when we are asking someone to think about what we are saying, we are in essence asking for the listener’s brain to be connected and tuned-in.”