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It’s Time to Revise the Traditional “Whole Body Listening” Model

Whole Body Listening Revised Graphic with outline of a body in the center and lines pointing to eyes, body, hands, feet, legs. Beneath each part words like "on the teacher" and "quiet and still" are crossed through with alternates below ending with "or what helps you listen"

It's Time to Revise the Traditional "Whole Body Listening" Model

Goodbye traditional “Whole Body Listening.” Some kids learn best while moving. Hello IEP that specifies that the student is allowed to move. My post on social media about Whole Body Listening has been my most shared by far. It’s clear people are ready for something else. Here I’m sharing (a recolored version of) the original and a couple of other versions I have sent to teachers from Alabama, to New York, to New Zealand so they can use this in their classrooms. If you’d like a copy of the pdf, email me. 

Here’s the truth: the “Whole Body Listening” model that tries to teach all kids to listen like neurotypical kids (or at least the way neurotypical adults want kids to listen) is outdated. Eyes on the Speaker. Hands and feet still. Legs criss-crossed. Body still and facing the speaker… Many people just don’t focus well sitting still and making eye contact. 

I am a doodler, note taker, and fidgeter myself. I keep a paper clip, two bobby pins, or a bobby pin stuck onto a quarter in my pocket sometimes. I listen better when I can move. Lots of kids do too. 

Students may need a place to walk in the classroom, a place to stand away from their desk, a fidget (or a choice of fidgets, including things made as fidgets and things the kid chooses, which may or may not count as a “fidget” to the grown ups… ya know, like a bobby pin stuck on a quarter), alternative seating, permission to close their eyes while listening, and the list goes on. 

Teachers, when you have a student who “won’t listen” or “won’t sit on the carpet for circle time” or “is always disruptive during lectures,” shift your focus away from teaching them how to appear to be engaged. Work to figure out what could help that child access your lessons. If “Whole Body Listening” is your focus, that’s their focus too. Is that where you want their focus to be? No. 

So, support the student in figuring out how they listen best. Put it in the IEP. Keep options open because what helps a student listen may change day-to-day. But, put it in the IEP. 

Do you need help with your child’s IEP? Reach out for a consultation

108 thoughts on “It’s Time to Revise the Traditional “Whole Body Listening” Model”

  1. Thanks for the offer to send a pdf of the revised Whole Listening expectations. I look forward to using it in the new year. Gratefully, K

  2. Hi there,

    I love your revised whole body listening. I’d like to share so can I please get a pdf version.
    Many 🙏🏽 thanks

  3. Hi Julie!

    This is great! Sara K. Ahmed talked about it in her workshop for teachers at Rutgers University today. I would love a copy to use in my work as a learning support coordinator to share with faculty.

    Thank you!

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