An Ear for Reading: Audiobooks Take Center Stage in the Classroom

(School Library Journal)

As educators adjusted to a radically altered learning environment last fall, high school librarian Erin Cassaro realized she needed to do something different to support the literacy needs of her students.

“We knew it would be difficult for kids to have access to physical books, so we invested a lot in ebooks and audiobooks,” says Cassaro, who works in Dublin (OH) City Schools. “What we have seen this year is that when kids are exposed to audiobooks and get a chance to experience them, they are hooked.”

Cassaro is one of many librarians and classroom teachers around the country who are increasing their use of audiobooks as a teaching tool. With many students learning from home this year, there has been a surge in the use of all digtal resources in schools, including ebooks and audiobooks. According to SLJ’s 2020 School Library Budget & Spending Survey, about 30 percent of respondents reported that they planned to spend more on audiobooks this school year.

Educators are using audiobooks in new ways to teach material and help students build literacy skills. Instead of using audiobooks as a learning station, where one student at a time or a few students listen to them during reading time, many educators are using them for entire class reading assignments and class discussions. Teachers in some schools are using audiobooks as a social-emotional tool by playing guided mindfulness recordings to help students relax and focus in class. New tech resources have made it easier for students to access audiobooks both at school and at home, enabling families to listen to books together and practice and reinforce skills that students are learning in class.

“There are so many advantages to using audiobooks,” says Kate Loker, a middle school librarian at Dempsey Middle School in Delaware, OH. “We have witnessed students who are reluctant to pick up a book but then they will listen to the audiobook and they love the story. We want students to love books and reading. Audiobooks increase their love of literacy.”

Audiobooks have been around for decades, but the format took off in the 1990s when companies could compress files and release books digitally. With the rise of smartphones and audiobook apps, audiobook sales have grown rapidly in recent years, fueled by companies such as Audible and Apple. In 2020, audiobook unit sales soared 17 percent over the previous year, according to a recent report by NPD Group. One in six books sold last year was in the digital audio format, the data shows. Some authors are now skipping print altogether and writing content that goes straight to Audible, which is owned by Amazon.

The production level has also improved; now audiobooks have high sound quality and many are read by well-known voice actors.

Companies that offer audiobooks for students and young people include suppliers such as Mackin, which has long sold print resources for schools and libraries and has moved into digital offerings; and tech companies like Tales2go, which is focused on providing audiobooks for students in schools. Audible began offering a large selection of free audiobooks in different genres for kids when schools closed last spring, and those are still available.

Read full article

Publication:      School Library Journal
Author:             Melanie Kletter
Publish Date:   5.4.2021