It is hard to dispute that reading books for pleasure has become more problematic in our increasingly technological society. Fewer children these days choose to read for pleasure, especially if there is an alternative. That is not to say children avoid reading completely: sales of children’s books in general are still respectable (remember Harry Potter!) and reading for pleasure is encouraged in the school curriculum. Children need good reading skills to access the curriculum effectively and reading still plays a central part in accessing the internet.
So what is the role of audio books in reading and learning? I neither think that audio books have replaced the traditional text, nor are they likely to in the future. But I do think that audio books have an increasingly important role to play in encouraging reading and in developing learning strategies. They have now made it possible for children to experience a multi-sensory approach that is more stimulating for the development of their reading skills. Audiobooks complement reading.
Many schools now expect audio books to be used not only in the homes of their students but also in the classrooms. Educational experts agree that audio books enhance learning in general, and for some individuals they play a crucial part in their learning development. Teachers can take a good quality audio production of a text and use it in many ways. Below I have listed five specific benefits of using audio books in school and outside school:
- Using audio books to teach children gives them variety. It gives them another “voice” in the classroom or home. Teachers in particular will use carefully selected short extracts from audio books to show how a text can be read or approached. Older or more mature students may find they can carry out useful study using an audio book at home or in “prep” time at school.
- Teachers can use audio books to inject entertainment or a sense of fun. Some audio book productions for early or younger readers set out to animate the text through the spoken word. They can be great fun. At home children may be more inclined to listen for longer sessions, especially where they can relax and stretch out! Perhaps at home, or on the journey home, some children will discover the pleasure of multi-tasking with an audio book.
- Audio books offer the teacher an important way of developing listening skills. Students can take a prepared list of questions or activities and use this to develop answers and responses as they listen to the text. This is great for developing active listening skills. It works really well when they students operate in small groups at “listening stations”. After listening to the audio file they can then group discuss or problem solve to take their active listening skills a step further.
- For children with specific reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, audio books offer a multi-sensory approach to reading which can help them enormously. The concept of “talking books” has been developed over the years, and the audio plays a vital role. Following an audio book, reading the text and looking at the printed material in front of them can increase their learning skills. For example hearing the pronunciation and seeing it printed will develop knowledge of words, their meanings and it will assist spelling.
- Audio books place an emphasis on spoken language. This gives students the opportunity to consider how the text is being delivered. Students can develop analytical and critical skills by listening to audio books. These skills will be transferable to other areas of the curriculum. The audio book may not yet be an established form, but it certainly offers students the chance to look closely at subjects such as intonation, timing, pausing, and spoken effects. These are more advanced skills that indicate the important role audio books can play in education.