By the time struggling readers reach high school, many have shut down or given up completely. For years, reading classroom material has been difficult, if not impossible, and they’ve rarely if ever experienced the pure joy of getting lost in a captivating story, or the excitement of learning something amazing from a non-fiction passage. Instead, they’ve spent most of their school days sitting in desks filled with textbooks they cannot read.
When students don’t read, over time we begin to see a decline in both their language and comprehension. They suffer from not having experience with the vocabulary, concepts and ideas expressed in text. Their spelling and writing skills are impacted and their overall achievement is often limited.
Fortunately, technology is revolutionizing the lives of struggling readers and opening the doors to a literary world far beyond their reading abilities. A variety of digital options exist, but audiobooks provide a simple, effective way to motivate and re-engage struggling readers of all ages. Audiobooks have been around for quite some time, but until recently, they have been expensive and not always readily available. Now, most students have their own mobile device and books are easily accessible through a variety of sources . . .
People may argue that listening to audiobooks is not ‘reading’, but what exactly is reading? Is it the mechanical process of pulling the words off the page or is it the experience of engaging and interacting with the content? The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension and most importantly we want our students to connect, analyze, question, imagine, reflect and finally synthesize new understandings into their world.
Audiobooks provide an opportunity for struggling readers to engage in content at their cognitive level, rather than being restricted by their limited reading capabilities. They develop vocabulary and comprehension skills and are able to be active participants in class discussions and activities.
We recently had a teacher approach us about one of the boys we were working with. Apparently, he was unable to read the classroom novel and was falling further behind in the class. She tried providing him with a text to speech version of the book, but he claimed it was boring and refused to listen to it. No one was available to read the novel to the student, and she was looking for some suggestions or support.
Fortunately, the boy was a proud owner of a new iPad, and the solution was quick, easy and free. An audio version of the book was available to download from the public library. The narrator of the book was a talented, expert reader who brought the story to life in a way our student had never imagined. along as the story was read to him. He was hooked! For the rest of that school day and most of the evening, he was glued to his iPad, listening and following along as the story was read to him.
The following morning, the student came to visit us. He had finished the book and was ready to discuss and analyze it along with his classmates. The purpose of his visit wasn’t to brag about that accomplishment though. He wanted to tell us that the book he had just completed was part of a series, and wondered if we’d be able to get the next book for him too! Wow! This student, who probably hadn’t read a book by choice for several years, was actually asking for more. All of sudden, reading wasn’t a chore, but rather a vehicle that allowed him to explore a whole new world.
Audiobooks are available from a variety of sources. Commercial companies such as iTunes, and audible.com have audiobooks for purchase. In addition, organizations such as Learning Ally offer memberships for all persons with a documented learning disability or dyslexia.
What’s especially exciting though, are the number of audiobooks that are now available at no cost. Libraries around the world are growing their collections of audio and ebooks and individuals can borrow them, just as they would a traditional book. The downloading process is easy, and at the end of the loan period the book simply disappears from your device.
If you know someone who refuses or struggles to read, try introducing audiobooks. It truly can be a life changing experience!