Listening to Literature: Struggling Readers Respond to
Teachers find that audio books are sound reading tools.
by Grace Rubenstein
October 18, 2006
Abbie Root, a fifth-grade teacher at Brookside Elementary School, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, started
the year with only six of her twenty-seven students reading at grade level. She and itinerant reading
specialist Janise Cole tried a new approach: Using recorded books from Pacific Learning 's New
Heights program, they asked children to listen to the text on tape while following along on paper, and
repeat the exercise until they could read each story on their own. Between November and April, the
number of grade-level readers in Root's class doubled, and, as she said then, "We still have six weeks
of school left."
Root attributes much of the progress to the audio books and believes the tool would benefit her strong
readers, too -- and teachers across the country are drawing the same conclusion. At J. T. Henley
Middle School, in Albemarle County, Virginia, teacher Pat Harder (a member of The George Lucas
Educational Foundation's National Advisory Board), uses audio books to expose students to text that's
beyond their reading ability but that challenges their vocabulary and comprehension. That way,
struggling readers aren't stuck with boring content, and they have the chance to learn to love literature.
Education professor Timothy Rasinski, of Kent State University, in Ohio, has also seen projects in
which older students record audio books themselves for kids in the younger grades. "It definitely
works," says Rasinski, who puts audio books in the same category as other forms of assisted reading.
"There have been studies that looked at captioned television or just reading with a parent. Across the
board, it seems to have wonderful potential for helping kids."
A perk of audio books is their accessibility -- an attribute that has everything to do with the Internet
and its accompanying boom in audio technology. With a click, educators can download a book for