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Audio books are an excellent way for students to read along with an expert reader and for students to understand the tone of a narrative. I do not suggest an exclusive audio reading of an entire work. Listening to the work and reading along, combined with out loud reading by the teacher and by fellow students with silent reading is the best practice. Reading should appeal to all student learning styles.
I third the Shakespeare ideas from the previous posts. I too teach freshman Romeo and Juliet. There's nothing worse than listening to 13 year olds murder his beautiful language. I like to begin by letting students try their own reading of the opening prologue. It gives me a chance to talk about pronunciation, but mostly stressed and unstressed words which leads us to Iambic Pentameter. Then I play the audio and students can then hear Shakespeare in a purer form. Most of the play I only have the audio playing, but key scenes I like to follow up by asking for volunteers to act them out in front of class. But only after hearing the audio and having a thorough class discussion.
With older students, i.e. seniors (still talking about Shakespeare), I always make them read aloud, and rarely play the audio. Unless a class is really struggling I like to get them to work through it.
Having the audio may seem like a lazy teaching tool, but when used in the right context it is an invaluable resource to further student understanding of difficult subject matters.
I like audio books to break the cycle of read silently, read aloud, teacher read, popcorn reading etc. The audio books are great for providing a model of expressive reading. Students can sit back and relax, letting the storyteller entertain them.
I use audiobooks in the form of shorter texts like poems and stories, and for speeches like Patrick Henry's "Speech in the Virginia Convention" and JFK's Inaugural Address. I do have audiobooks and headphones for students who have difficulty reading...I think the audiobooks help them stay focused. I teach tenth and eleventh grade, and we read To Kill a Mockingbird at the sophomore level. This is a great text for lower level readers to have on CD. I do agree with the previous poster who said to not go over 25-30 minutes with an audiobook since it seems like attention spans are getting shorter. Audiobooks work best for me if I play them for about five minutes and then stop and ask students to process what they just read.
As with the previous poster, I've used audiobooks when reading Shakespeare plays. There are certain editions (the publisher escapes my mind at the moment) that are sold with a CD included. Often, there will be 2 or 3 different versions of a particular scene, so students can hear different actors/actresses interpreting the text. I've had the most success using audio with Romeo & Juliet, as it's on our freshman reading list. For most students, it's their introduction to Shakespeare's work. Otherwise, I'll use audio excerpts sparingly. I've had students who have used audiobooks to read outside of class, which I encourage as long as they have book in hand in class. Like brettd, I've used audio when teaching Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, as the experience is unmatchable simply reading in class. Otherwise, I enjoy reading aloud and hearing my students reading aloud. There's just something about a group of people reading to each other that is very powerful.
Having said that, I wish I could get my hands on a certain recording of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado". Several years ago (maybe 2002?), I worked at the Royce Hall Theatre at UCLA. Every Halloween, there would be a production of Poe's poems and stories read by actors and musicians. Will Ferrell read "The Cask of Amontillado", and it was one of the most chilling readings I'd ever heard. He managed the humor (dragging Fortunato's cough out at least a minute) and the madness with unparalleled skill. I would love for my students to hear the characters come alive in Ferrell's performance.
I use audiobooks most frequently to teach Shakespeare. Because many students have trouble reading prose aloud, I've found that trying to have them read an entire Shakespearean play aloud is usually a disaster. Because the kids are generally so unfamiliary with the language, they're usually unable to convey meaning through their reading of the play. So, a text that's often difficult for students anyway becomes even more difficult for them to understand. With audiobooks (I love Naxos for Shakespeare), the kids understand the action of the play better because the actors and actresses are obviously able to convey Shakespeare's intended meaning.
The previous thoughts about hearing "Night" on audiobook is wonderful. It was so very true. I think that audiobooks are a great way to bring literature to life. High achieving students can gain a great deal from listening to the cadence of literature and its spoken effect and underscore the written one. At the same time, I think that struggling readers can feel empowered with audiobooks and possess some ground upon which future reading endeavors can continue. I have always loved playing Peter Coyote's narration of Paulsen's "Hatchet" in order to bring out the full force of Brian Robeson's narrative. In this light, all students are able to really immerse themselves in what is happening in the text.
There have been times in the classroom when I use audio clips to introduce primary sources, such as Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?", or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, but actual audiobooks themselves are less practical for me and less effective for my students overall. Most modern public school students have a limited attention span. I can get them to focus on no more than a 20 minute clip of a film or a 2 - 3 page reading before they tune out. Their listening skills have, in my opinion, an even more limited range of effectiveness, so no, I don't use audiobooks.
There was one exception. For several months I had a legally blind student (with non-correctible vision) who needed txt materials on tape. We made sure to provide these for him, but did not actually use these in class.
Audible.com is a great resource for the classroom. When I read Into Thin Air with sophomores in high school, the mountain language was a lexicon many students were unfamiliar with. So, having Krakauer's voice pronouncing these words helped them use the context clues of the sentence to figure out meaning. His inflection also demonstrated character feeling much better than we could see in a difficult text.
I have a teacher friend who just received a grant for iPods in her classroom. I wondered what her purpose could have been, so I asked how on earth she got that approved. Students who don't enjoy reading or who have special needs will be much more apt to plug headphones in their ears to try and follow along. I wondered why she needed her own iPods. Well, give kids an audio version and guess what they'll do on their own iPod... that's right, their own music.
Audiobooks are great, I would just recommend as with all classroom activities that you try not to take more than 25-30 minutes at a time with an audio reading if you are doing it as a class.
I have used audio readings of novels I'm teaching in the classroom - often because it gives me a break from reading. I like to do significant portions of the texts with my class. I believe there is much to be gained from reading and thinking aloud with a class.
That said, I happened upon a copy of Night (on cassette tape if that tells you anything) that I absolutely loved playing for the class. The reader had a more authentic accent than me (obviously) and could pronounce all the names of people and places perfectly. Something about listening to this instead of reading myself helped my students more fully understand the seriousness of the text. It is not read by the author - but it sounds like it could be Elie Wiesel himself. The kids usually loved it. It read a little slower, which allowed them to follow along and jot notes or answer questions at the same time.
I am personally a huge fan of audio books. I tell students they are a great way to expand their mental libraries - especially if they spend significant time in the car. But there again, I'm a fan of anything that continues to encourage students to stay interested in BOOKS - whatever it takes.
Hi, everyone! It's so great to read about how audiobooks are helping not only those students with special needs, but entire classrooms.
There's a conversation about Audiobooks in Education over on Audiobook Community - we'd love to have you join us and share your thoughts on that discussion, as well as throughout the site. Our 4,000+ members include industry professionals (narrators, authors, producers) as well as listeners from all walks, and we just concluded a summer listening program for teens that was a smashing success. Hope to see you there!
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