About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade for the past 19 years. Her students read books that are held together by tape, and because of budget cuts her school does not have a full-time librarian, art teacher, technology teacher or music teacher. As a result, she says, “our schedules are limited and cannot be arranged for what is best for students.”

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” –Ernest Hemingway. 

courtesy Wendy Mogel PhD

courtesy Wendy Mogel PhD

Spring is here; too bad Mother Nature has not listened to that announcement and taken the appropriate steps to start spring here in the Midwest.  But it is spring and with spring comes the highly coveted Spring Break.  I have taken this gift as it should be taken, for rest and relaxation.  With that I have found the opportunity to listen.

This year our school has been reading about Habits of Mind.  This is the third article I have written now about the habits.  As with many things in education, I was leery when I heard we had another “new” thing to implement in the classroom.  But as I have made myself read and learn more about this philosophy I am finding it rewarding to implement, model, and teach habits of mind to my fourth graders.

Spring break has been a time for me to listen to my inner teacher.  I have spent time playing with my children, visiting with extended family, making Kool-Aid play dough, climbing on real fire trucks at the fire station, sleeping in, reading, and playing games.  For the first few days I let school sit. And as I allowed myself that grace, that listening time, I found renewal.  In the spring new life begins.  Spring break brought that for me.  I feel refreshed, more patient, energized, and ready to celebrate the end of another successful school year.

Listening with empathy is difficult in the classroom.  There are always things to do and places to be and assignments to complete.  My students bring stories of themselves and I find it hard to stop and listen with empathy.  However, the reward for doing this is immeasurable.  The reason I am in the classroom is for the child, not the assessments or the schedule.  I am challenging myself to model listening with empathy this last nine weeks of school.

Listening with empathy is something that makes us better people.  It allows us to see others viewpoints and understand their walk in life.  Here are some activities you can use to teach this important Habit of Mind to your students.  I have my fourth graders do these individually.  You can do this during reading group centers, as a writing assignment, for whole group lessons, or however works into your classroom schedule and curriculum.

  • Give examples of a character in your book demonstrating good listening skills and listening with empathy.  Reference the page numbers that support these examples.
  • Give examples of a character in your book NOT demonstrating good listening skills.  Explain how you know they are not listening.  Reference the page numbers that support these examples.
  • Research information about hearing and how the human ear works.  Research information about how another organism hears or communicates.  Compare that organism to human hearing/communication.
  •  Write about an experience in music class where you had to use listening.
  • List activities you can do without listening.  List activities that involve no sound.
  • Write all of the sounds you hear around you right now.    What is the loudest sound you hear?  What is the softest sound you hear?  What are the three most important sounds you hear?  Why?  What sounds are unnecessary?  Why?
  • Create a list of books that have characters that are empathetic.
  • Write about how your life would be different if you had to communicate without talking.  How would you feel about this?
  • Rate yourself as a listener.  Write a paragraph about what you do well as a listener.  Write a paragraph describing what you need to do to be a better listener.

Listening with empathy is paying attention as others are speaking and trying to understand their point of view.  It is nice to be able to teach my students to listen with empathy and watch them apply this skill that will have a positive life long impact on their futures.  Check out the Habits of Mind website.  They have useful things for teachers, a weekly email, printable pdf items and more.  We have a responsibility to teach not only our curriculum but important life lessons to our students.  Stop and listen to yourself and your students.  Enjoy the growth you hear this spring.


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