Sunday, May 7, 2017

Audiobooks: Benefits as children develop reading skills

What happens when we read a book? In early elementary years, there is greater emphasis on decoding skills. But the importance of broader comprehension skills is crucial in these early years and plays an even more important role as students transition into late elementary and middle school. How does the work we do as teachers support students developing their understanding of what they read?
Simple view of reading (based on Gough & Tunmer, 1986)
Listening comprehension plays a crucial role in developing students’ ability to understand what they read. As Hogan, Adlof and Alonzo (2014) explain, this ability to understand what you hear is an essential underpinning to building a mental model. Vocabulary recognition, background knowledge and story structure familiarity are all part of this process. The question becomes: if these are the elements that impact comprehension, how do we support students developing and maintaining these skills?

Audiobooks allow children to focus on the key skills of understanding words and the overall story, and this helps develop their deeper comprehension skills. This happens when children listen to audiobooks on their own, not just when they listen and read. As a third grader told me last week, “The audiobook reads the book really fluidly, so it’s easy to understand what they’re saying. They’re really expressing the story. They don’t just talk.” One of her classmates added on, saying,
“When you read you have so much in your head. When you listen it’s easier.”
In 2015-16, WestEd conducted a research study in Berkeley that examined the impact of audiobooks on literacy skills for 2nd and 3rd graders. Students listened to a selection of stories each week, without reading the books at the same time. They were just listening and enjoying the stories. The results were clear and remarkable.

Students who listened to audiobooks on a regular basis, developed stronger reading skills -- attaining 58% of their annual reading gain in just 10 weeks. Students who listened to audiobooks increased their reading comprehension skills three times more than their counterparts. Their vocabulary gains outpaced their control group counterparts by seven times. All of this made students want to read more. We see this in their increase in reading motivation by four times, relative to their control group.
Results from WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.
As a teacher and librarian, this study confirms exactly what I’ve seen with my own eyes. When students listen to audiobooks, they are more engaged, they understand stories better and they WANT to read more. This is because audiobooks help them develop their vocabulary, give them access to more complex text and help them create a fuller mental picture of stories. The power of this study is remarkable. It shows that listening to audiobooks provides essential support to the development of reading comprehension.

If you'd like to learn more about audiobooks, I'd like to invite you to listen to a free webinar: Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks. The webinar will broadcast live on Monday, and it will also be available as an archive. I will share this research, my own experience, and ways school libraries can take action.

Preventing the Summer Slide with AudiobooksMonday, May 8, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDTvia, sponsored by Tales2Go
This live, interactive session is designed for PreK-12 librarians as well as reading coaches, ELL specialists/teachers, Title I teachers and administrators, district librarians, and classroom teachers. Join us to learn how to prevent the summer slide with audiobooks!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Works cited:

Gough, Philip B. and William E. Tunmer (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education. 7(1): 6-10.

Hogan, Tiffany P., Suzanne M. Adlof and Crystle Alonzo (2014). On the importance of listening comprehension. International Journal of Language Pathology. 2014 Jun; 16(3): 199-207.

WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.

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