Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Power of Audio Books

Most kids love to listen to audio books, but did you know that this practice is also extremely effective for improving reading comprehension and fluency? I discovered this well-kept secret a few years ago when I started using audio books with my struggling readers. I was using Classroom Book Clubs in my classroom on a regular basis, but I was experiencing a problem when it came to book selection. Many of my 5th graders were signing up to be in groups with difficult books that I knew they couldn't read on their own. What to do? Require them to choose an easier book that didn't interest them? Or let them choose a difficult book, knowing that they would probably drop out of the group later?

Fortunately, I discovered a simple solution to this problem: audio books. I located audio versions of some of my favorite student books like Hatchet and Shiloh, and I allowed students in those groups to listen while reading their books each day. To manage the problem of multiple users needing the same audio player, I figured out how to connect several students via headphone adapters connected together. I assigned one student in each group the role of “Audio Captain” who would start and stop the audio player as needed. All students were expected to have their own copy of the book open and follow along, tracking the text visually as they listened.

Amazing Results
My students were very excited about the program, and the audio materials were constantly in use during reading class. After just a few weeks, I noticed something amazing. I could tell that the students who were using these audio materials regularly were becoming better readers! They weren't just becoming better listeners – their reading comprehension and fluency skills were improving, too!

These results intrigued me and I wanted to know more. I was in graduate school at the time, so I conducted an action research study to gather data about what I was observing. I selected eight struggling readers for my study, and I provided audio materials for every book that they read over a two-month period. I compared their reading comprehension test scores before and after the study, and every single student made significant gains. The average score rose from 41% of their reading comprehension answers being correct in September to 60% correct in December!

I know it was just a small, informal study, but the results convinced me that I needed to continue using audio books. I began to wonder how listening to audio books could translate to improved reading skills. I finally realized that audio books can introduce students to a world of reading they've never known. Fifth graders who can’t read well probably aren't motivated by a steady diet of picture books and easy chapter books. But hook them up to an audio version of Hatchet, and the words begin to work their magic. As students track the text with their eyes and listen with their ears, they see words they've heard before but were not able to recognize in print. They can apply the strategies that good readers use, from visualizing the events to making predictions. In the process, they discover the joys of a great book!

Time Saving Resources for You
Another reason you might want to obtain audio books for Literature Circles or Classroom Book Clubs is that you can listen to them yourself to preview them or to keep up with what your students are reading. I always recommend that teachers read books first before using them with students, but it can be difficult to find time to do so. If you purchase the audio version of a book, you can pop the CD into your car’s CD play or download it to your Mp3 device and listen to it instead.

Where to Find Audio Books
You can find audio books in many places, including your public library and yard sales. However, the easiest way to find them is to go to Amazon.com and search for them there. I've created a collection of Literature Circle resource pages on my website that include book recommendations in many categories, including Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, and Realistic Fiction. Each book includes a link to where you can find it on Amazon.com, and most of those books have audio versions that you can purchase. I recommend purchasing the CD versions because then you’ll always have one master copy, but you may want to transfer the audio file to a mobile device, computer, or Mp3 player.

How to Obtain Audio Materials
Does the idea of using audio books intrigue you? I’ll bet you can think of several students right now who would benefit from listening while reading. However, you may also be wondering how and where you can purchase these materials since they can be a bit costly. That was my concern, too, but I solved that problem by setting up an Audio Book Fund and asking for donations to our classroom audio book collection. I've uploaded a copy of my letter to parents in Word format so you can adapt it and use it yourself. In the letter I explained about the importance of audio books and how my students would benefit. I was thrilled to receive over $100 in donations within a week! When the money started rolling in, I ordered audio materials to go with all of my favorite titles to use with Classroom Book Clubs.

If you haven't used audio books in your classroom, I hope you'll consider giving them a try. I think you'll find audio books to be powerful tools to improve comprehension and fluency. Best of all, listening to audio books will allow your struggling readers to discover the magic hidden inside every great book. Soon their reading skills will improve and they won't need audio books. When that happens, a whole new world will open up before them, the amazing world of literacy!
     




15 comments:

  1. Great article! You have highlighted the many positives of audiobooks! As a beginning fourth grade teacher, I admit as hesitant at first to use audiobooks. However, as I have been more purposeful and clear about my expectations with students on how to use them and why they are important. I definitely have seen results both in motivation and comprehension in my struggling readers. I also like how you tied in your graduate school work with your classroom discoveries!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I hope that more teachers will give audio books a try because they really are quite powerful.

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  2. Love this!!! I started homeschooling my two children 3 months ago. My eldest who is 10 has dyslexia and reads and writes in 1st 2nd grade level. I am not a teacher but a desperate mother trying to help her children. I started making the boys read 20 mins. a day with a chapter audio book of "MY CHOICE" and in the evening they had could read 30 mins of a book of "THEIR" choice. The first couple of weeks where tough. They fought me every day and stopped ever few mins. They complained they could not keep up. Next thing you know not only are they keeping up but now for their choice of reading they are now picking more difficult books! My sons spelling, comprehension and vocabulary has exploded!!! We now have a Library day every Tuesday and we pack a lunch and spend the whole day at the library. I figure that my children struggle with reading and writing so that's what we are going to do the most!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! Your actions may have drastically altered the course of your children's lives. Because of you, doors will be opened to them that may have been closed. I applaud you for sticking to your plan. I have found the same thing with kids when they start listening to audio books. Then next thing you know, they are reading on their own!

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  3. I couldn't agree more. Audiobooks are a wonderful tool! They're not as good as books, but they're far more engaging than TV. It's a good half step. We download them for free on this site. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/stories-for-kids

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  4. Hi Laura! I enjoyed this article very much and agree completely. I use audio books a great deal in my 5th grade class with my newcomer EL students.

    I was wondering if I might be able to share a link to this blog post with my readers when I talk about an audio hub tool I found for my ipods and ipad. You gave me the inspiration for finding a new hub that would work for this technology and I would like to credit you. If not, I understand completely and will not do so. Thank you for everything, I love reading your blog!

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  5. This is an incredible post! I have been using audio books with my special needs class during out SSR time. I have them listen to the story on day, read the story to an adult another day, and have them read the story independently the last day and complete a listener's response. I also use the fluency program, Read Naturally. These resources have seriously improved my student's fluency, comprehension, and interest in reading! They have also become more independent, and confident readers. I recommend providing audio books to all my colleagues, as I have seen tremendous improvement in my classroom

    Thank for you for this post. I am recommending it to others

    Rae
    Mindful Rambles

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments. I wrote this because I really do believe in the power of audio books, and I'm glad that you'll share it with others.

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  6. Hi Laura!

    I followed Kristen's link to your post and I am SO excited to start using audio books more in my classroom! This is something that I have really wanted to get going, but right now I only have a couple of my students who are reading below grade level listening to audiobooks... now I want to get my whole class in on it!! Thanks so much for the wonderful information!

    Molly

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    1. Thanks for leaving a comment to let me know. It's very exciting to see students make progress after struggling for so long. Be sure to check out DonorsChoose as an option for purchasing your audio materials.

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  7. Thanks Laura, that's a great article! I love audiobooks. My problem at the moment is trying to get audio books onto our class set of ipods. Can anyone tell me how to do it? I must be missing an important step!

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    1. I don't think you can get an audio book on a class set of ipods since it would have to go through your itunes account. Your best bet is to add it to your itunes account and put it on a few ipods, then use headphone splitters to connect several kids to one device. Here's how one teacher handled it:http://www.ladybugsteacherfiles.com/2013/03/maximizing-technology-with-headphone.html

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  8. The best place to find audio books is Playaway. It's a company that specializes in educational content. Take a look at their website playaway.com You will love what you find.

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