Grandma on the phone: Strategic listening for better retention

My students have an odd behavior that I think gets in the way of their learning. I call it the magic words phenomenon. Basically, any words that are written on the board or included in a slide deck are magic words, and get transcribed verbatim as they take notes. I’ve tried various ways of changing what I write down for them to look at as they organize and understand the content. Even if a slide has 5 single-word bullet points that make no sense and they know that they can have a copy of the slide deck, those 5 words will sit by their lonesome, handwritten into the class notes. Context-free.

There’s a better way, and I teach it in media writing. 

When you are covering a live event or doing an interview, it is easy to get bogged down in the amount of detail that is being given. Detail is sometimes important, but it’s not usually why people pay to read your version of what happened. In addition to getting facts, a reporter has to focus on the big picture. One way to do this is to imagine that you are talking to your grandma on the phone about what you have learned. I just heard X say …  You’d never tell grandma that the room was almost full first. You’d probably not say you went to a talk and the speaker started with this funny joke, if most of what she said was about the plight of orphans. As you are listening for information…at a speech, in a meeting, in a class, listen strategically. What’s the big picture, and how do the individual things that you are hearing fit into that big picture?

You’ll both understand and remember better. I’m not making this up. It’s science. 


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