Wilson, M. (2003). Discovery listening – improving perceptual processing. ELT Journal, 54(2), 335-343. [link]
Discovery listening: dictogloss and self-assessment to build listening skills.
Magnus Wilson wrote this article back in 2003. His main argument was that textbooks and teachers relied too heavily on top-down processing when teaching listening. Basically, listening instruction was teaching students how to guess from context. Eleven years later and this still seems to be the predominant technique. Even though little has changed, bottom-up processing (understanding the sounds and words) is becoming more popular.
Wilson suggests an activity he calls “discovery learning,” which focuses on bottom-up processing as well as students self-assessing their trouble spots in order to address specific problems. He recognizes that top-down processing plays an important role, but when many students can’t even hear familiar words, or are stuck somewhere between bottom-up and top-down problems, finding and addressing specific issues is important.
Using a level-appropriate short listening text at normal speed, the task consists of the following simple steps (see the appendix of the article for the specific worksheet):
- listen without taking notes
- self-assess (in terms of a %) their comprehension
- listen two more times while taking notes
- in small groups, students use their notes to reconstruct the text
- compare their reconstruction with the original
- determine the source of their mistakes (chosen from a list; see appendix of the article)
- decide how important the error was
- listen again, focusing on their most important errors
While, so far as I can tell, untested, Wilson’s idea seems to be a logical attempt to address important bottom-up processing problems students often encounter. By improving these skills and making sound and word discrimination more automatic, students will likely be able to decrease this type of cognitive processing while simultaneously increasing the processing of meaning.
I think this is a simple yet powerful idea, and it is one which I plan to integrate (or possible test) relatively soon. I already do a mix of bottom-up and top-down work and focus on both extensive and intensive listening practice. Discovery listening seems like a wonderful technique to add to my repertoire of listening activities. In addition, I really like the idea of self-assessment and noticing of errors and I can see myself adapting this in a number of activities. Thank you, Magnus!