Audiobooks in Education

I love listening to audiobooks, but sometimes my enthusiasm for them is met with comments such as “That’s not really reading, is it?” or “That’s cheating.” Listening to books is certainly different from reading books, but is it cheating? Does listening to audiobooks count as reading?

AudiobooksI suppose the answer to that question must come from one’s own definition of reading. If reading is understanding the content of the story or the theme, then audiobooks certainly succeed. No one would argue the importance of decoding in teaching children to read. But, understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections is at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books.

Audiobooks have traditionally been used in schools by teachers of second-language learners, learning-disabled students, and struggling readers or non-readers. In many cases, audiobooks have proven successful in providing a way for these students to access literature and enjoy books. They have not been widely used with average, avid, or gifted readers, however. There are so many possible benefits for doing this, including:

  • Introducing students to books above their reading level
  • Modeling good interpretive reading
  • Providing a read-aloud example of different dialects and styles
  • Teaching critical listening
  • Introducing new genres and vocabulary
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children, who can listen together in the car or at home
  • Allowing students to access commentary or readings by the author, connecting students to the author and offering insight into her thoughts and the writing process

Even with all these benefits, they are not necessarily for everyone. For some, the pace may be too fast or too slow, and the use of CD or MP3 players can be cumbersome when compared to the flexibility of the book. Despite this, the majority of students are likely to find listening to well-narrated, quality literature to be a transformative experience.

AudiobooksSo why aren’t audiobooks finding their way into classrooms? One reason appears to be availability. Public libraries usually have a good quantity of them, but most school libraries have only a limited number because audiobooks are expensive. The cost of CD or MP3 players and headphones must also be taken into consideration, and though these costs have come down considerably in the last few years, schools typically do not budget funds for such purchases.

If money is available for purchasing audiobooks, it is important for librarians and teachers to do their homework before buying. Single-author unabridged audiobooks tend to be the best, though there are some excellent dramatizations available. There are also many sources of audiobook reviews readily available online, including School Library Journal.

Audiobooks can be a welcome addition to every classroom. Many students are avid readers while others are struggling to become readers and still others have given up hope, and audiobooks have something to offer all of them. Click here for a great website where you can purchase audiobooks (and listen for free with a thirty-day trial).

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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