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Beyond the Audiobook: Using Audio to Support Literacy Learning

By Kristin Webber
 | Nov 25, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-105697271_x300“No longer is it enough to be able to read the printed word; children, youth, and adults, too, need the ability to critically interpret the powerful images of a multimedia culture. Audio and video literacy are key factors required of today’s students to interpret and produce multimedia,” as Northern Illinois University’s Sharon E. Smaldino said. Audiobooks are a proven literacy resource, which is why they’ve been used in classrooms for decades; however, using audio beyond the audiobook offers many advantages to classroom teachers. For example, audio is inexpensive, readily available, easy to store, and portable. Additionally, audio can be used to stimulate learning or to assist a struggling student. In the classroom, audio is typically used in listening activities; however, there are many ways students can record their own audio as a way to develop literacy skills.

Voice recording is a flexible tool that allows students to record their learning as well as build fluency skills. Voice recording can be completed on any device (tablet, laptop, smartphone, etc.) using free voice recording apps. Voice Memos is an easy-to-use app that comes preloaded on iOS devices. I have found that voice recording can be beneficial to fluency development. By allowing students to record their own reading, they have the ability to play it back and listen to themselves and self-check for fluency. Oftentimes after self-assessing, my students would rerecord their reading and make adjustments to produce a fluent reading. This same concept works very well with Readers Theatre performances too.

Voice recording is also a great way to document learning. Students can record their thinking about a topic or the content that they have learned. This is especially useful as an alternative to written assignments for young children, second language students, or struggling students with writing skills that are not fully developed.

A podcast is defined as making a digital audio file accessible. I have used podcasts successfully with all ages of  students from elementary to graduate level. My elementary students would record their weekly Readers Theatre to be posted on the classroom website. This provided an opportunity for students to practice their fluency skills as they rerecorded until they had the perfect performance. It also gave them a purpose for reading because families and friends in the outside world had access to listen to it.

One of my favorite assignments for my reading graduate students is the journal article critique podcast. Students choose a content-related article to critique, recording their critique in a podcast rather than in writing. I set forth guidelines for the critique itself and also for the podcast. The recording needs to be at least 1.5 minutes long but not exceed 2.5 minutes. The reader’s voice must be clear, and there cannot be any extraneous noise in the background. My students are reluctant to use the technology at first, but after they complete the assignment, I have found that it is one of their favorites, too. Many see it as a great way to teach summarization skills, as the time limits of the podcast really force the authors to determine the most important aspects of the text. My graduate students see this as an activity they can use immediately in their own classrooms. The completed podcasts are posted on our course discussion board. Students are required to respond to the podcasts of at least two of their peers, thus giving the assignment a real-world purpose instead of just writing another paper to be submitted for only the instructor to read.

Both teachers and students can use various types of audio to enhance learning opportunities using minimal technology. The ways audio can be integrated into literacy instruction are limitless!

Kristin Webber is a veteran teacher with over 20 years of experience. Currently, she is an associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Reading at Edinboro University, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy. She also serves as the Program Head for the Graduate Reading Program. Kristin has taught at every level from preschool to high school, and her research interests include the new literacies and instructional technology integration in teacher education programs.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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