Instructors must know something about their students in order to communicate effectively. As discussed earlier, an instructor needs to determine the abilities of the students and understand the students to properly communicate. One way of becoming better acquainted with students is to be a good listener. Instructors can use a number of techniques to become better at listening. It is important to realize that in order to master the art of listening, an attitude of wanting to listen must be developed. [Figure 3-4]
Just as it is important for instructors to want to listen in order to be effective listeners, it is necessary for students to want to listen. Wanting to listen is just one of several techniques that allow a student to listen effectively. Instructors can improve the percentage of information transfer by teaching students how to listen. [Figure 3-5]
Listening is more than hearing. Most instructors are familiar with the concept that listening is “hearing with comprehension.” When the student hears something being communicated, he or she may or may not comprehend what is being transmitted. On the other hand, when the student truly hears the communication, he or she then interprets the communication based on their knowledge to that point, processes the information to a level of understanding, and attempts to make a correlation of that communicated information to the task at hand. The increased level of motivation of typical flight and aviation maintenance students makes this process much easier.
Students also need to be reminded that emotions play a large part in determining how much information is retained. One emotional area to concentrate on is listening to understand rather than refute. For example, an instrument student pilot anticipating drastic changes in requested routing becomes anxious. With this frame of mind, it is very difficult for the student to listen to the routing instructions and then retain very much. In addition, instructors must ensure that students are aware of their emotions concerning certain subjects. If certain areas arouse emotion in a student, the student should be aware of this and take extra measures to listen carefully. For example, if a student who is terrified of the prospect of spins is listening to a lesson on spins, the emotions felt by the student might overwhelm the attempt to listen. If the student, aware of this possibility, made a conscious effort to put that fear aside, listening would probably be more successful.
Listening for main ideas is another listening technique. Primarily a technique for listening to a lecture or formal lesson presentation, it sometimes applies to hands-on situations as well. People who concentrate on remembering or recording facts might very well miss the message because they have not picked up on the big picture. A listener must always ask, what is the purpose of what I am listening to? By doing this, the listener can relate the words to the overall concept.
The instructor must ensure that the student is aware of the danger of daydreaming. Most people can listen much faster than even the fastest talker can speak. This leaves room for the mind to get off onto some other subject. The listener who is aware of this problem can concentrate on repeating, paraphrasing, or summarizing the speaker’s words. Doing so uses the extra time to reinforce the speaker’s words, allowing the student to retain more of the information.
Nobody can remember everything. Teaching a student to take notes allows the student to use an organized system to reconstruct what was said during the lesson. Every student has a slightly different system, but no attempt to record the lecture verbatim should be made.
In most cases, a shorthand or abbreviated system of the student’s choosing should be encouraged. Notetaking is merely a method of allowing the student to recreate the lecture so that it can be studied. The same notetaking skills can be used outside the classroom any time information needs to be retained. For example, copying an instrument clearance word for word is very difficult. By knowing the format of a typical clearance, student instrument pilots can develop their own system of abbreviations. This allows them to copy the clearance in a useful form for read back and for flying the clearance. By incorporating all or some of these techniques, students retain more information. Instructors can vastly improve their students’ retention of information by making certain their students have the best possible listening skills.
Good questioning can determine how well the student understands what is being taught. It also shows the student that the instructor is paying attention and that the instructor is interested in the student’s response. An instructor should ask focused, open-ended questions and avoid closed-ended questions.
Focused questions allow the instructor to concentrate on desired areas. An instructor may ask for additional details, examples, and impressions from the student. This allows the instructor to ask further questions if necessary. The presentation can then be modified to fit the understanding of the student.
Open-ended questions are designed to encourage full, meaningful answers using the student’s own knowledge and perceptions while closed-ended questions encourage a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions, which typically begin with words such as “why” and “how” tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions. Often open-ended questions are not technically questions, but statements that implicitly ask for completion. An instructor’s ability to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop.
In contrast, closed-ended questions tend to evaluate the student’s understanding only at the rote level of learning. Closed-ended questions can be answered by “yes” or “no.” When used in a multiple choice scenario, closed-ended questions have a finite set of answers from which the respondent chooses. One of the choices may be “other.” It is a good idea to allow respondents to write in an optional response if they choose “other” because developing the student response may lead to insights into the learning process.
One benefit of closed-ended questions is that they are relatively easy to standardize and the data gathered easily lend themselves to statistical analysis. The down side to closed-ended questions is that they are more difficult to write than open-ended questions, generally lead the student towards the desired answer, and may under certain circumstances direct the conversation toward the instructor’s own agenda.
To be effective, questions, regardless of the type, must be adapted to the ability, experience, and stage of training of the student. Effective questions and, therefore, effective communications center on only one idea. A single question should be limited to who, what, when, where, why, or how and not a combination of these. Effective questioning must present a challenge to the student. Questions of suitable difficulty serve to stimulate learning.
Two ways of confirming that the student and instructor understand things in the same way are the use of paraphrasing and perception checking. The instructor can use paraphrasing to show what the student’s statement meant to the instructor. In this way, the student can then make any corrections or expansions on the statement in order to clarify. Perception checking gets to the feelings of the student, again by stating what perceptions the instructor has of the student’s behavior that the student can then clarify as necessary.
Since it is important that the instructor understand as much as possible about the students, instructors can be much more effective by using improved listening skills and effective questions to help in putting themselves in the place of the students. Questions should be phrased to focus the student on the decision-making process and the exercise of good judgment.
Knowledge of the subject material and skill at instructional communication are necessary to be an instructor. Increasing the depth of knowledge in either area makes the instructor more effective.
An instructor never stops learning. While professional development is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8, the more an instructor knows about a subject, the better the instructor is at conveying that information. For example, a maintenance instructor teaching basic electricity might be able to teach at a minimally satisfactory level if the instructor had only the same training level as that being taught. If asked a question that exceeded the instructor’s knowledge, the instructor could research the answer and get back to the student. If would be much better if the instructor, through experience or additional training, was prepared to answer the question initially. Additional knowledge and training would also bolster the instructor’s confidence and give the instructional presentation more depth. It is important for an instructor to tailor whatever information that is being presented with the learning level of the students.