Archive for March, 2007

Making History Come Alive Through Listening

March 26, 2007

Teacher: Renee McQuade

Students: Grade 4, ages 9 – 10

Audio Content: The Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic by Mary Pope Osborne

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools

Renee McQuade faced an interesting challenge as she approached her social studies lesson on the Titanic. Her predominately urban, working class students often have trouble connecting to material. Getting them to build connections to an almost century old, luxury cruise ship seemed like a stretch. How could she make this historical event relevant and relatable, and make the story come alive? To help her students grasp the event and share in the experience, she downloaded Tonight on the Titanic from

Use of Technology. During the first lesson, McQuade used her own iPod and speakers to broadcast the audio to the class. However, her speakers were not quite loud enough for everyone to hear. Students were forced to move their chairs closer and gather around the iPod and strain to listen. For the second lesson, McQuade put the audio book onto a CD and played it through a stereo. It took her almost three hours to download the audio book from’s website because her computer told her that a file which was already on her iPod had to be deleted. She hadn’t been properly instructed how to deal with that obstacle.

Classroom Lesson. McQuade played Tonight on the Titanic over the course of two lessons. The listening activity occurred between her reading and social studies lesson, thereby merging the subjects’ concepts. She incorporated the audio as a read-aloud activity, a social studies lesson, a writing activity and a review of the assigned reading strategy for the week. Her usually rambunctious class of 34 students quickly fell silent and listened intently as the book played. The students often laughed and gasped in unison, evidence that they were paying attention and were engaged. Every ten minutes, Ms. McQuade would stop the book and open the room up to discussion, giving the students a chance to share their reactions and to discuss questions such as “What problems are present in the story so far?” “What elements led to the sinking of the Titanic?” “What was the Titanic like?” and “Who can describe what has happened up to this point?” During English lessons, McQuade had been teaching her students how to recognize persuasive language and write with the purpose to persuade. She thought of a unique way to reinforce the concepts they had been learning and exercise them in a social studies activity. Following Tonight on the Titanic, the students were given broad instructions to write a letter to the White Star Company, urging them not to send the Titanic on its voyage. Students were to cite specific examples from the audio to support their case.

Summary/Results. Because of the lessons they learned from the audio book, students were able to include specific reasons and details in their letters to the White Star Company. Dating their fictional correspondence April 10, 1912, the students wrote emphatically, expressing themselves in a creative fashion and making each letter uniquely their own. One student wrote that they were from the future, sent back through time to prevent the ship from its tragedy. Most importantly, they were able to exercise their persuasive writing skills and successfully reiterate the elements present in the story, Tonight on the Titanic. McQuade described how pleased she was with the way her students were drawn into the story and the way they retained the information. Many students who do not usually participate in class were excited about their assignment, including a number of rich details from the story in their letters.

Teacher’s Quote. “It was definitely a worthwhile experience. [The students’] letters really showed they were listening.”

Developing 3 new readers… at once

March 22, 2007


My wife Amy and I very much feel that reading needs to be a top priority for our children. We have three boys, Alex (6), Andrew (4) and Gregory (2) who love to have us read to them. We have found that reading allows our kids to step out of the chaotic schedule of the day and focus on learning letters and words, enjoy stories and learning some cool facts about several topics including animals, nature, outer space, planes and trains. Each of our children’s interests are of course different and their reading and comprehension level is very different. Coupled with the fact that our time is limited at night after the hustle and bustle of dinner, baths, etc, and the kids’ bedtimes are all close together, we often find ourselves unable to find the time to read to each child, or spend a very short stint of time with each child. has opened a new opportunity for us. While we do enjoy “reading time” with our children, my wife or i will now work with 1 child at a time on reading from a book while the other 2 listen to audible on my laptop. For example, I recently had one of them reading Charlotte’s Web while the other two listened to Cat in the Hat. After the oldest had read for a while, I had him listen to some passages from Charlotte’s Web (which helped the story sink in), and gave the Cat in the Hat book to my middle son (who had just heard the professional narrator reading the same words). This way, each child got a longer and varied exposure than they normally would.

In addition, our family travels frequently long distances by car and plane, and having these books available in this format provides them a productive, fun and quiet (for the adults) activity for those long hours of travel.


New audio: Catch-22, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, and others

March 22, 2007

Each week, Audible adds to its catalog of children’s content. Since it can be a little difficult to hear about great new titles, each week, I’m going to post a “great listens” tour of our new and notable releases. This week, we’re adding to some series, and (finally) we’ve gotten the Joseph Heller classic. After the jump, check out the list (some with a bit of commentary). (more…)

My students seem more engaged in audio

March 21, 2007

Through a grant, I was able to get a set of mp3 players and my middle school science students listen to and discuss audio content several times in my class. In addition, I show several videos throughout the year. I have been amazed that, although my kids seem to agree that the film and audio media I select is engaging, accessible and relevant to the class, the kids seem to be more actively engaged when they are asked to listen than when they are asked to watch. As long as I keep the audio segments short enough, kids generally sit upright, nod, take notes and work at listening. In contrast, they seem more passive when they are watching video. A similar difference is evident in their notes. I create note-taking guides for both video and audio, and kids tend to infer and write more when we listen than when we watch. I am curious if other people notice the same and, if so, why do you think that might be the case?

Discussion about Predictions and Inferences Builds Students’ Love of Books

March 21, 2007

Teacher: Margaret Koch


Students: Grade 4, ages 9 – 10


Audio Content: Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie

Location: Woodlynde School, Strafford, PA Introduction

Margaret Koch, a fourth grade teacher at the Woodlynde School, has a class of eleven students who are learners with mild to moderate learning differences, requiring careful and strategic instruction to meet each of their individual needs. Having always advocated technology as a tool for teaching in her classroom, she welcomed the use of audio books in the classroom. Since Koch reads out loud to her students on a daily basis, she also welcomed the break an audio book brings. She chose Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie in hopes that her students would be able to understand, respond and enjoy it as a work of literature.

Use of Technology. Like other Woodlynde teachers, Koch found the downloading aspect frustrating due to the school’s firewall interfering with their access to Audible content.  Koch was able to adapt and burned the audio book onto a CD. But after the first day of listening, Koch discovered that due to the odd track list, it was difficult to stop the story in specific places and resume listening again. She decided to record the CD onto an audio tape, giving her freedom to stop the story and leave a specific place over night, as opposed to keeping the CD player on pause for 24 hours. One issue of concern was the speed of the audio. Since the students were reading along with the text in front of them, many reported that the audio was too fast for them. Koch remarked that if it was possible to change the speed of the audio without affecting its quality, perhaps some students would benefit.
Classroom Lesson. Prior to listening, Koch asked the class about friendship. Students broke into three groups to discuss the characteristics of a friend and write down their findings. The groups brought their lists to the big group and, as a class, created a large master list. Koch then asked, “Based on this evidence, can a pet be a friend?” Then Koch played Because of Winn Dixie, using the audio in place of a daily read aloud activity and featuring more teacher-led discussion. The discussions were designed in respect to comprehension, making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. She would also call on specific students to make predictions and inferences, and students assumed the point of view of the main characters in order to demonstrate understanding.

Summary/Results. After a few chapters, students didn’t want to stop listening. But even with the excitement, Koch felt that the students missed her reading to them. She felt that there is no emotional connection with audio books and that the students missed the human connection of being read to. The cultural gap between the students and the story also proved to be an obstacle. Koch often had to stop and explain phrases like “Fixin’ to pitch a fit.” As time went on and students became more acclimated to the story, the need for explanations dwindled. Some students were also initially distracted by the narrator’s thick southern drawl. The students found themselves trying to adjust the way they listen in order to understand. Koch reported that some of the students had great difficulty with the voice, but others didn’t miss a word and loved that the accent gave the story an authentic feeling. Overall, Koch found that the understanding and comprehension of the audio increased over time and many students were showing signs of beginning to master the material. A content quiz that she had conducted in class showed a high level of command and—subsequently—high grades.

Teacher Quote.  “My goal was to introduce a wonderful piece of literature in a new and different way to motivate students and increase their enjoyment of literature. That goal has been met.”

My experience with and my two-year old

March 20, 2007

My daughter Abby, like many 2 years olds, has an amazing ability to be interested in just about everything. Along those lines, as a parent I recognize that because of Abby’s age and the “everything’s fun” attitude that goes with it, I feel that now is the absolutely best time to introduce her to various forms of stimulation and learning. With regard to developing her ability to listen, it is such a critical skill to have throughout life, yet most often left to chance. In my professional experience, the people who excel in their careers are often the ones who have excellent listening skills – the ability to hear the content of a conversation or meeting and synthesize/retain the information. Ironically, as I reflect upon my own education as I was growing up, only a tiny fraction was dedicated to actual listening skills. As parents, my wife and I of course want to proactively build a strong cognitive foundation for our child, upon which the rest of her education will be built. To do this, we have pursued the normal gamut of developmental toys, interactive games, lots of outdoor time and scores of books which we dutifully (any joyfully) read together. Thanks to the audible children’s book, we have added listening to books as part of our goal to exposing Abby to the things that will help her growth and learning. And just like when we started reading books to her before she could understand what the words meant or what the storyline exactly was, my wife and I started having her listen to stories before she could really comprehend what the storyline was. The goal is exposure to a variety of input. Naturally, with books she is now more able follow the plot, is engaged in the pictures, and is becoming more and more aware of the letters and words that tell the story. Likewise with listening, she’s naturally gaining the ability to understand that there is a person reading a story. She already knows that stories are fun and interesting. The skill builds itself. As a parent, I simply have to choose what types of things she’s exposed to and engage in them with her to “get the ball rolling.” I can’t emphasize enough how important good listen skills are in life.

I have B.S. in Education and have worked as a teacher at the secondary education level. I’ve transitioned into the business world, both private sector and with the government. In all settings I’ve seen the advantages that people with good listening skills have over those who have poor listening skills. I am certain that having strong listening skills is a clear advantage for anyone’s personal and professional growth. It is for that reason that I strongly encourage and support Audible’s growth in educational offerings, including the toddler years.

“Listen with Your Kids Month” Continues: Maguire and Pooh downloads

March 19, 2007

The inaugural NEA/Audible “Listen with You Kids Month” continues.  You can still get the free download of Random House/Listening Library’s “List to the List”, audio excerpts from Newbery Award-winners.  Additionally, we’ve got a couple of great selections through to the end of the month.

Tomorrow we’re going to put up “Goldifox and the Three Chickens”. This is one of the “fractured fairy tales” from Gregory Maguire’s Leaping Beauty. Maguire is the author of Wicked, and this collection of off-beat takes on traditional fairy tales is fast becoming a classic.

On Tuesday, 3/27, we’ll put up our finale:  “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place”.  This story is from the first volume of Winnie-the-Pooh: A.A. Milne’s Pooh Classics.

Also, last week we added an information page about listening with your kids.  It has recommendations for ways to listen with your child, as well as some literacy research information on the benefits of audio in developing literacy skills.  You can find it from the LWYK homepage (link below) or you can click through directly here.

So stop by and pick up these great free downloads and spend some time listening with your kids.  (And spread the word to any parents or teachers that might be interested!)

Building Mental Imagery with Story Re-Telling

March 19, 2007

Teacher: Zibeda Khadr

Students: Grade 2, ages 7-8

Audio Content: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools

Zibeda Khadr’s 2nd grade class includes a mix of children who enjoy books and children who struggle with reading. When asked how she thought her students would react to listening to Roald Dahl’s Matilda as an audio book, Ms. Khadr said, “The students will be quiet while listening, but some students may get frustrated or distracted and begin to distract others from listening to the book.”

Use of Technology
Khadr downloaded the audio book Matilda onto iPod Shuffles for her students. The students loved getting to use new technology, but there were some obstacles. Not all of the students knew how to use the Shuffles and needed assistance in finding the right place to begin in the audio book. One student came into the class on the second day of the activity, raving that she had gotten to teach her mother about iPods since she had never heard of them. “I told her all about it,” she said, “and it was cool because I’ve never taught a 32-year-old before!”

Classroom Observation. Students were given their own iPod Shuffle, each with a downloaded copy of Matilda. Sitting at their desks in silence and with the ear phones plugged in, students listened to the book in 20-minute segments and wrote a summary of what they had heard. Khadr encouraged each of them to “be like the author.” Apple’s ear bud headphones on the iPods proved to be too large for some of the smaller students’ ears, but the affected children learned to hold them to their ears in order to listen. On the first day of the activity, much time had been lost as Khadr worked to synchronize the iPod Shuffles. Many of the students seemed more excited about the new technology and fidgeting with it than listening to the story. Following the activity, Khadr had them write out sentences indicating whether or not that felt that they could summarize what they heard, and whether or not they were distracted. On the second day, with the synchronizing process going quicker with practice, the students had more time to listen. They were less distracted by the technology and quickly fell silent and stared off into space as they listened intently to the story. Khadr, encouraging them to play the role of the author and illustrator, had the students draw select scenes of the story as they had imagined them along with a written summary of that particular event. Many students drew and wrote with a high level of detail, including specific facts they had retained from the story, such as how many miles the bingo place was from Matilda’s home.

Summary/Results. Overall, the use of audio books proved to be beneficial for Khadr’s students. “I believe the lesson was effective,” she says, but she also acknowledges the technical difficulties. “There were problems with using the iPods and getting all the students to start at the same part of the story.” Khadr says that many children tended to press buttons on the iPods out of curiosity, leading some students to lose their place in the book and stopping listening altogether. Notably, Khadr mentioned a student who was typically “disinterested in writing, even though she loves to read,” but reported that this particular student wrote with “great detail following the listening activity.” Despite the technical difficulties, Khadr marveled at the students’ enthusiasm over the lessons. She reported: “The students were extremely excited and told their classmates all about the activity, something that hasn’t happened with other lessons.”

Teacher’s Quote. “It was a good experience to not have to rely on pictures and to use their imagination.”

We need to TEACH them to listen…

March 16, 2007

I was just doing some research for graduate school and found an article in the September, 2002 issue of Parenting Magazine. The article focused on the importance of listening and made the point that, “Throughout life, listening is the communication skill most used—to gather information, to show others that we care, to do our work. But it’s also the one that’s least taught” (Parenting, v.6 no.7). As a teacher, I give directions, new information, and feedback to kids verbally more than by any other means. And yet, the only way I teach listening is by reading aloud to kids. This makes me wonder, would listening to audio books and audio content help kids further develop these critical listening skills? Should I be encouraging my kids/their parents to regulalry practice with audio books?

Audible and the NEA: “Listen with Your Kids Month”

March 12, 2007

You know Read Across America, right? The National Education Association the month-long program is in its tenth year, and this year it has something extra. Well, this year, it’s a little more special. Audible and the NEA have teamed up to bring “Listen with Your Kids” month. Audible will be providing great free audiobooks for download each week this month, and the NEA, along with other partners, will be bringing the message of spoken word audio to their audience.

This past week, we feature Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are.

Act fast, though, because we’re going to swap this audiobook out with a new one tomorrow. Tomorrow’s audio selection will feature spoken word excerpts of numerous Newbery Award winners as well as an interactive portion in “quiz show” style. Librarians we’ve spoken with tell us that kids really enjoy this series from Random House’s Listening Library, and we hope you’ll like it too.

You can visit Audible’s Listen with Your Kids Month site for updates here:

Check in on the page throughout the month for new information and more free downloads. Later this week, we’ll also be introducing a page of information on listening with your kids. It will include some research-based information on the benefits of audio, parent testimonials, and ideas on the best ways to share a listening moment with your child.

As always, post your comments and let us let us know what you think about this program,