Listening skills are underrated. We all listen to people daily, but we don’t always listen well. Practicing active listening skills is obviously important to students when they’re in class, learning to a lecture. How well do those same students listen to their classmates in a class discussion? How well do they practice listening when they are reviewing one another’s papers in peer response groups?

Active listening skills can improve performance in writing classes and other writing situations at several points in our process. We can talk over our ideas about a topic in a brainstorming session. For the person who is planning to write, trying out the ideas first with an active listener can be powerful in shaping what to say and how to say it. We can even discover new meanings in our topic by talking about what we plan to write.  At any point in our writing process, getting feedback from a peer or a mentor can be valuable. Reading a draft aloud to present listeners gives a writer a real sense of how the text is working. As writers, we self-correct and think of ideas we might add as we read aloud and listen to ourselves reading. Just listening to the writer provides a service, and, when the listener practices excellent listening skills, can result in useful feedback to the writer.

I hope it is clear that, in these instances, it is the act of listening that helps writers develop their texts. Good feedback is a plus, but just knowing that our ideas are heard sympathetically can give us the impetus to take a text further or dig deeper. Active listening is a skill that should be explicitly taught and practiced in a writing class.