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Benefits of Audiobooks for All Readers

By: Denise Johnson
Audiobooks have traditionally been used with second-language learners, learning-disabled students, and struggling readers or nonreaders. In many cases, audiobooks have proven successful in helping these students to access literature and enjoy books. But they have not been widely used with average, avid, or gifted readers. This article lists the benefits of audiobooks for all students.

I love listening to audiobooks. I share my enthusiasm with teachers, parents, students, family members, and anyone else who will listen. Many rejoice right along with me in their merits.

But, at other times, my enthusiasm is met with comments such as "That's not really reading, is it?" or "I won't let my students listen to audiobooks because that's cheating." Listening to books is certainly different from reading books, but is it cheating? Does listening to audiobooks count as reading?

I 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 or -impaired students, and struggling readers or nonreaders. In many cases, audiobooks have proven successful in providing a way for these students to access literature and enjoy books. But they have not been widely used with average, avid, or gifted readers. Varley (2002) writes, "Uncertain whether audiobooks belong to the respectable world of books or the more dubious world of entertainment, elementary and high-school teachers have often cast a fishy eye at them, and many have opted for the safe course of avoidance."

It might be appropriate, then, to list the benefits of audiobooks for all students. Audiobooks can be used to:

  • Introduce students to books above their reading level
  • Model good interpretive reading
  • Teach critical listening
  • Highlight the humor in books
  • Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
  • Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
  • Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
  • Provide a read-aloud model
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
  • Recapture "the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers" (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)

Additionally, many audiobooks are read by the author or include commentary by the author. A recording of The Fighing Ground by Avi, for example, includes an author interview in which he explains how he came up with the idea for the book. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is read by author Jack Gantos and also includes commentary about why he wrote the book. This information can provide students with a connection to the author as well as insight into the author's thoughts and the writing process.

Even with all the benefits of audiobooks, however, they are not for all students. For some, the pace may be too fast or too slow. For others, the narrator's voice can be irritating or the use of cassette or CD players can be cumbersome when compared to the flexibility of the book. But the majority of students will find listening to well-narrated, quality literature to be a transformative experience. Varley (2002) states, "If one thing has struck me about the way people describe listening to audiobooks, it is the reported intensity of their absorption and the emotional grip of the experience. 'They go right to your soul,' says one listener."

One reason more audiobooks are not finding their way into classrooms is availability. Public libraries usually have a good quantity of audiobooks, but most school libraries have a limited number – audiobooks are expensive. The cost of cassette or CD players, headphones, and batteries 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 some dramatizations (such as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, read by the author with a cast of more than 40 British actors) can be excellent. There are many sources of audiobook reviews readily available online, such as KidsReads.com. Also available online are free audiobooks of older children's titles such as the Beatrix Potter books at Wired for Books and the Wizard of Oz stories at Audiobooks for Free.

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. Audiobooks have something to offer all of them.

Denise Johnson is an assistant professor of reading education at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. This article is excerpted with permission from Reading Online, a publication of the International Reading Association, copyright 2003.

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Comments

These are great for those who struggle with sitting down and actually reading a book. My son loves audiobooks and I am so grateful because I would not get him to read otherwise!

Audio's are great for adults too if you want to keep up with the best sellers. Your child is watching - the example you set is a good one. Here is an easy read [listen] for adults.No Easy Day - Audio Book Review No Easy Day is a ‘boots on the ground’ first hand account of the mission to get Osama Bin Laden from a member who was actually on the elite all star SEAL team labeled Team 6.What was remarkable about the raid itself was the realization as to how many things actually went wrong. During this historic mission, all kinds of things started falling apart almost from the beginning. Despite all the problems, it still worked out - mostly because many issues were anticipated and contingency backup plans were in place and rehearsed. Truly, there is no easy day in the life of a SEAL.This is a gripping story - not only of the Bin Laden raid but also of the years and demanding work by the SEALS that led up to it. This is not just excellent for the annuls of history - it also an account about how winners think. It is a great insight into the heads of people like ‘Owen’ who look at challenges completely differently than the average person.Many reviews of this book are five star, but there are a few one star critiques as well. For instance, there is not much information about the raid itself. That would only make about a five page book! There was a chapter or two at the end giving the authors version of how things went down. The author assures us that there was no violation of secrecy or operational security.The man became more important than the mission. There is no room for self-promotion in these units - no one individual is more important than the team. The team and commanders should have received more respect.The book is a straight forward and simple read, not too much depth or descriptive detail. However, the flow of the book is good and it informs the general public on what it takes to become a SEAL and how difficult it is to actually be one. The Audio CD is the unabridged edition of the book. For your listening pleasure, your buying choices are Audio Book, Audio CD or Kindle. More information is available at;http://www.speakingaudiobooks.com/audio-blog.html

I started to follow a few podcast recently and find it interesting and help me remember the gists better than reading. The only issue I faced is at times it is harder to catch certain content in view of the accent or local jargon/jokes being used (I am an Asian).Having said that, I will sure to read more and listen more audio book!Regards

I like both audiobooks and physical books. The audios are awesome for when you house cleaning, yard work or other things to do besides sit and read. They are especially good if the readers are good and know what to dramatize or use the right tone. As you mentioned in the article, they are great for expanding vocabulary and hearing certain words in context. As a writer myself, I love hearing the way words, phrases and sentences are put together. I like physical, or ebooks when I have the time to just sit for a while and read. Like I said above, as a writer myself, it's nice seeing how other authors write, their style etc.. All in all, they are both great and teach you a lot about vocabulary, reading, tones when reading, as well as how words are used, how sentences are structured ect.. Great post! ~Devani

I loved physical books growing up. I was always the top of my class with grades and reading (Accelerated Readers rewards rocked!!!) However, as I grew into a busy millennial, sitting down to read a physical book became harder and harder. One of the main throwbacks to reading books was actually sitting - my back aches if I sit too long (I have tried reading in my bed, a comfy couch, a soft reading pillow for the bed, etc) But it's all uncomfortable for me. And laying down and reading gets tiresome and awkward after a while. However, with audiobooks, I can be walking around, cleaning, cooking, etc and still enjoy a book! I'm a fan of podcasts, so audiobooks align with my love of oral/auditory storytelling. Of course, I also can relax and lay down with my eyes completely closed in a comfortable position while I get taken into a new world by the reader. That's my favorite way to enjoy a great book.

As a teacher of ESL students, I'm looking forward to sharing audiobooks with my students. However, I agree with the author. Audiobooks are great for us all. Since being introduced to audiobooks, I've put classics on my list that I never would have wanted sit down and read, or would have been deterred by the old fashioned language. I don't have children now, but when I do, I can't wait to listen to audiobooks with them over and over! Another use of audiobooks is the ability to listen to books in new languages. I'm practicing spanish now by listening to the Divergent series and Fault in Our Sky and plan to listen to many of my favorite books in spanish. It's a great way to build bilingualism with yourself and with children! Great to read this article and see that others share my enthusiasm.

I teach 2nd grade was excited to read this article! I take it as affirmation of the commitment I made recently to have all students using an audio book center on a weekly basis. I hunted up half a dozen headphones, a cassette player, and a small wire cart to hold everything. There will also be a bag of prompts for children to respond to in their small group after listening to a book. Prompts will include things like: main & supporting characters, setting, problem & solution, author's message, favorite part, etc.

I highly prefer audio books because it allows me to "read" while cycling, at the gym, driving, or even falling asleep with Audible's great sleep mode feature.

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