Are you an AM or FM listener?

Do you have trouble listening in school? To teachers, that is—not friends! If so, join this conversation between the two of us.

Does this ever happen to you?

Teacher: I told you we might have a pop quiz this week. This is it. Take out a clean sheet of paper, put your name at the top, and number from 1 to 10 in ink.

You: Oh, no! I hate pop quizzes.

Teacher: Is everyone ready?

You: No, not yet. Can I use a pencil? How high do we number?

Teacher: You weren’t listening to me!

That’s me lots of times!

It sounds as if you’re listening on AM instead of FM.

What do you mean listening on AM instead of FM? I don’t turn on a radio during class.

AM listening stands for Absent-Minded listening and FM stands for Focus-Minded listening. Just as FM radio is made up of radio waves that go in straight lines, FM listeners aim their minds straight at what they are hearing. AM listeners are absent-mindedly catching bits and pieces of what the speaker is saying.

Listening on FM instead of AM at school is important because over half your time in class is spent listening.

I try. I really do. But after a few minutes of listening to the teacher, I start thinking about something else.

You aren’t the only one. Luckily, you can become a Focus-Minded listener if you want to. Here are some tricks that most students find helpful:

• Turn on both ears and mind. If you have trouble hearing a teacher who has a soft voice or an accent, ask to sit closer to the front. But hearing words isn’t enough. You have to try to make sense out of what you hear.

• Turn off personal problems. Write your problem on a piece of paper. Jot down a time when you’ll work on it. If your mind drifts back to your problem, make a check mark in a corner of your paper and then get back on track. If your problem is sitting next to you, ask for a seat change.

• Tune out static. When you can’t ignore teams practicing outside or kids in the hall, change things by closing the window or door.

• Tune in to special words and phrases. Listen extra carefully when you hear phrases like “This will be on the test…,” “The most important reason is…,” and “Your project is due on….” If you can, write down what follows.

• Pay attention to special signals. Notice what each teacher does when saying something that’s especially important. Some jot notes on the board. Others stand with arms folded in a serious pose. Some speak very slowly. Watch and listen for each teacher’s body language.

Some teachers are so boring I can’t stand to listen to them even when it’s important. Why can’t they be more interesting?

If teachers were comedians, they’d make a lot more money on TV! FM listening to a dull teacher is hard, but it’s the only way to get what you need. Don’t let the way the teacher talks keep you from learning or getting the grade you want and deserve.

Can I do anything if I drift off?

Wait until a natural stopping point. Then hold up your hand and say, “Sorry, but I missed what you just said. Would you say it again please?” You can’t do that every day, but most teachers don’t mind it once in a while.

Worst of all is watching some movie in science that was made when my grandparents were in school. At first, we all laugh at the weird clothes and funny haircuts, but after that lots of people go to sleep.

Remember — a movie of you and your friends today will look just as funny to kids ten years from now! As for feeling sleepy in the dark, do what you can to stay awake and focused. Sit straight in your chair. Jiggle your foot, swing your arms close to your side. Take notes, but jot down only a word or two so you won’t miss seeing anything important. Don’t be distracted by unimportant details such as how the actors are dressed or the old-fashioned equipment used. Turn on your FM ears and listen for the message of the movie.

You make me sound as if I’ve got to have an antenna sticking out of the top of my head!

No, your antenna is that special brain of yours that picks up signals from other people. It knows how and when to listen. If you pay attention to it, you’ll soon be a cool FM listener. More power to you!

by Mary Bowman-Kruhm