Are audio books effective for all learners?

Audio Books: They are everywhere! Most new titles and old titles have audio versions available for listening. For the strong reader (typically adults) that do not have time to read, the audio book may be a godsend. An Audio book can allow them to catch up on a new title while driving, taking a shower or preparing dinner.
The young reader may be more attracted to the audio book because it may be considered a ‘fun’ option that exposes them to titles that are beyond their actual reading level. In this case, the introduction to new content, and titles create new opportunities for learning.
However, the increase of audio books in the classroom, specifically the special education classroom can be quite problematic.
If you ask any educator what major challenge they face in the classroom, many will mention low literacy skills. When the teacher is unable to effectively assist the student, or the appropriate supports are unavailable, technology is often the next resort without considering specific instructional strategies that will lead to the student’s progression. Educators and departments often rely on assistive technology such as audio books and computer programs that read written text to students as early as kindergarten.
Studies have shown as well as my personal observations, that for the reluctant reader or the reader with gaps in their learning , audio books do not increase retention or engagement with the content. In most cases, the student becomes passive and the mind begins to wander. This practice has not improved reading/literacy skills and can set the student up for a life of challenges and barriers.
If your child is reluctant to read or experiences difficulty doing so, it is important to develop a rapport with your child’s teacher and question him/her about your child’s reading level early in the school year. Reading materials should be at the students’ reading level not their grade level. If students are functioning below grade level, the goal is to eventually have them reading at grade level and this cannot be done if they are forced to read materials that are too difficult for them to read. For the high school reader who is reading at the grade 4 or 5 level, books such as Orca books are written at a lower reading level but include content that is applicable to the age level. For those who enjoy non-fiction, Newsela has relevant news articles based on relevant, engaging topics that relate to students lives and the world in general at a variety of reading levels.
Students need to be taught specific reading strategies such as inferring, connecting, predicting and questioning in order to read for meaning. Reading intervention which consists of regular running records and writing sprees may be required for students who have problems decoding which would then allow the teacher to discover the best strategies and resources needed for that student. Most importantly, the reading materials should be related to student interests and lived experiences. This is key as many studies show that kids are more inclined to read material that they enjoy.

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