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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Literacy in the New Millennium: Finding a Balance Between Audio and DigitalTexts

I confess change can be difficult. I recall with deep sorrow the day my overhead projector was rolled out of my room and replaced by a document camera.

In my opinion, my projector was a perfectly good piece of equipment! In fact, it took me almost a year to concede that the projector wasn't returning. I stayed in denial until 2015 when I tossed out my box of faithful transparencies.

As a middle school literacy coach, I felt like I had committed an unpardonable sin when I discovered the guilty pleasure of reading a book using my new Kindle reader. My first digital book was David and Goliath by Malcomb Gladwell. I enjoyed the nuance of changing pages with the swipe of my finger, highlighting features for unknown words, and the luxury of having a virtual bookshelf that could go anyplace with me.

During the school year 2011-2012, our campus introduced an audio library to staff and students. Our librarian worked with the students in my reading support class and showed them how to check in and check out Young Adult (YA) audio books. I saw firsthand how struggling readers, who would have never been able to read a YA novel on their own, listen to the same books as their peers. When available, my students would check out the physical book from the library and follow along with the audio. I saw my student's confidence as readers blossom.

My first audio book was Divergent by Veronica Roth. I spent part of my summer vacation listening to the  Divergent series while running errands or cleaning the house. There was something comforting about someone reading a book to me. Surprisingly, I didn't feel like I had missed out by not reading the text digitally or from a physical novel.

In spite of my experience with digital and audio texts, I always returned to the books I could hold in my hand. I found comfort in the familiarity of "dog earring" pages from a dime store paperback novel. I like the smell of paper and the sound of pages turning. I'm quite certain my first library card is boxed up in our attic most likely with my first edition of the Nancy Drew books.

Last fall, I co-designed an experimental research project to find if people (in general)  comprehended more after either listening to a text read by the author or by reading the digital text. Out of 117 volunteers (some of you may have participated), the results showed participants remembered more from an audio version of a text.

The graph shows the trend of correct questions answered. The orange line shows the correct answers by participants who listened to the author read the text. The blue line shows the correct answers by participants who read the text.

Would the results be differently had the passage been longer than 500 words?

Would the results have been different if the text had required different comprehension demands such as remembering a sequence of steps like in a recipe?

You can learn more about the study here:

As audio books and digital texts are being marketed by mega educational book companies, our students have options. Students who are reading "below grade level" have the opportunity to access the same literature as their "on level" peers by listening to the audio version of a book. Digital books often have features to allow English Language Learners to have unfamiliar words defined by touching and highlighting the word.

And yet, our students continue to be assigned paper based books to read in their courses.

One thing we should all agree on is that reading only happens when there is comprehension. Reading words without making meaning is nothing more than what is concerned "barking at print." I can "sound out" words in Spanish and sound like I am reading with some degree of fluency. However, I would have NO idea what the words meant without knowing the language!

Whether or not we agree on the type of text (audio, digital, paper-based), the goal is ALWAYS making meaning. In the classroom, ensuring that our students engage in DEEP READING is also critical. (At least that is my strong opinion).

What is deep reading?

According to Standford Center for Teaching and Learning, deep reading is a "deep approach to reading where the reader uses higher-order cognitive skills such as the ability to analyze, synthesize, solve problems, and thinks metacognitively in order to negotiate meanings with the author and to construct new meaning from the text. 

Lately, I have been wondering if the same high level of engagement could happen auditorily or by "deep listening". If so, what would this engagement look like? How would comprehension be measured?

As the millennium nears the twenty-year mark, changes in technology will continue to shape and define the literacy landscape. There will be more and more ways for students to engage with books whether it is auditorily, digitally, or perhaps with virtual reality.

The key will be finding a balance.

Confession Reflection

  • What are the benefits of giving students choices on how they engage with literacy? How would this empower students?
  • How might digital books support language acquisition for English Language Learners?
  • Why is it important to expose our students to literacies other than paper-based? How would engagement with these types of literacies support college and career readiness goals?
  • How can curriculum directors and literacy teachers support a balanced literacy program?

1 comment:

  1. Our school library has been carrying audiobooks that accompany the paperbacks for two years now, and they are highly popular. I started listening to audiobooks a few years ago in an effort to teach myself a new skill, and now I love it. I even listened to David and Goliath and a few others by Malcolm Gladwell.

    So much current research talks about giving students choice, and this is definitely an avenue that choice is available. I still see students struggle with reading electronic books, even though we have so many available. The biggest complaint I hear is that it hurts their eyes. Considering how much time many of them spend on their phones, that's a bit amusing.