Ready, Set, Listen, Launch a New Product


All hands on deck. That’s what happens in a small company when you are launching a big, new audacious feature that no one has ever done before.

This is what our company Listenwise did recently when we created the first of its kind multiple choice auto-graded listening quiz.  There has never been an online listening quiz that gives teachers the power to assess and track listening skills.

This assessment has been in development for two years. First, we partnered with a cognitive scientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital to study and learn more about what makes up the key elements of listening. As an expert in reading comprehension, Dr. Tiffany Hogan has done foundational research on how reading and listening are closely tied.  

We wondered, “What can we learn from reading research and apply it to listening?” This question–and its answer–has served as the foundation of our listening assessment.

Creating a Listening Assessment Tool

Our curriculum team established a listening skills matrix to identify the key elements of listening we wanted to assess and how they align to the Common Core. Currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests listening as part of the English language arts portion of the test. Listening is optional in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests.

Just like reading, listening has many different aspects. You may have a student who can answer literal recall questions but can’t really synthesize the main idea. Or perhaps you’ll discover a very strong student isn’t able to make inferences. But how would you discover that without the right assessments? We identified how we could test strategic listening, precise listening and critical listening as discrete skills.

When we had the matrix ready, we worked with an expert in listening who wrote a textbook on how to improve listening.

But we faced a challenge.

No one had experience writing questions to assess listening. There are many writers who craft questions for reading tests, but because there was no listening test, we were in uncharted territory. We had to hire experienced reading item writers.

A Team Effort in Ed-Tech Product Development

This didn’t go smoothly at first, because we discovered the writers were just reading the text of the audio story and not listening to it to create the quiz questions. The result was some of their questions were not on target. When you listen to something, and hear people’s voices and emphasis, you often take away a different meaning than if you read it.

Then, we had to decide which of our 1000+ NPR stories on our web platform were the most appropriate listening content to use for assessment. Ideally the story would be something that challenges students to think and introduces new, higher-level vocabulary that won’t come up through classroom discussion with peers. We were also looking for a story that allows the student to make inferences, draw conclusions or hear vocabulary in context.

As we built the quizzes we did extensive beta testing, with students, our team and classrooms. We learned a lot from our whole team being a part of the process. It allowed the team to experience the quizzes for themselves, which was great for our sales team who were already talking about the new assessment with potential customers and great for our marketing team to learn how to better promote the quizzes by being so hands-on.  

The all-hands-on-deck approach was a learning experience and a team builder. And while it sparked a lot of late nights and extra work, we were in it together.

Now anyone can try it out for themselves and take our free listening quiz. Stretch your listening comprehension skills and see how you do. It doesn’t take long, it’s a 3-minute story followed by five questions. You might be surprised by the outcome!

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One thought on “Ready, Set, Listen, Launch a New Product

  1. A product is only truly valuable when the process of making it is used and combines all the senses. Its quality will be proportional to the drawing from the learning experience and the creativity and discovery of new things.

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