How Teachers Use Audio Books in the Classroom: The Research Process

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We learned so much by giving teachers the opportunity to experiment with audio books as a learning tool! Like all research, this project generated new insights, new possibilities and new questions for exploration. Here’s the process we used for a preliminary investigation of this topic. Some of our key findings reveal that audio books engage students and support their language development and content knowledge. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share details about some of the creative approaches that teachers in our study used with their elementary and secondary students— and then tell you about how college teachers used audio books im their courses, too.

Purpose. Knowing that one in three people are auditory learners,Temple researchers wanted to discover more about the educational potential of audio books and how they may help increase literacy and listening comprehension. The research team was also interested in teachers’ motivation to use audio content and wanted to learn about what types of lesson plans were most beneficial when using audio content as a learning tool. This report summarizes the methods used to develop the case studies, presents the results, and reviews the general findings and lessons learned.

Recruiting Participants. In order to recruit teachers to participate in the study, we widely emailed teachers from the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We held an introductory meeting to potential participants on January 31, 2006. Audible offered participating educators three free credits good for any audio content on Audible.com, and each of their participating students would receive one credit, entitling them to one audio book. Audible also gave participating educators the option to use 15 iPod Shuffles, which would allow students to listen to media independently.

Sample Demographics. A total of 16 teachers volunteered to participate in the pilot study, 13 women and 3 men. Eight were K-6 educators, three taught students in Grades 7-12, and five taught in higher education settings. Teachers were employed in both private and public schools, in urban and suburban districts.

Procedure. Participating teachers signed a consent form, drafted by Audible, confirming their participation and outlining the goals of the study. The consent form was a formal declaration made by the teacher agreeing to the terms of the study which included: an acknowledgement that the information provided could be edited by Temple and Audible at their discretion, and that the teacher consented to the use of their name, likeness, and biographical data in connection with the study and any associated publicity and promotion. Each participant was assigned to a Temple research assistant who would support their experience in the case study. Researchers were available to guide the teachers as needed. In some cases this support was modest as teachers were able to work independently to complete the activity. In other cases, research assistants provided assistance in selecting content, resolving technological obstacles, and developing accompanying learning activities. Participants completed a pre- and post-test reflection survey, answering questions about their professional experiences and background, their expectations for the study, the obstacles they faced, and their perception of the success of the activity on student learning. In addition to completing the pre- and post-listening surveys, each teacher participated in an individual interview with researchers. In general, teachers were candid about their experiences and described the activities they implemented in great detail. In a number of cases, researchers were also able to observe classroom activity to observe a lesson plan in action. Teachers chose a wide variety of content, including short stories, chapter books, non-fiction books, essays, lectures, and radio magazine segments. Listening activities were conducted either one time or over a series of days. Ultimately, the teachers had complete control over what they implemented in the classroom. In selecting the audio book content and designing and implementing the lesson plan, teachers invested differential amounts of time and energy into the project. Some teachers made thoughtful selections of audio content and spent weeks preparing their lessons, while other teachers devoted considerably less attention to these tasks. These case studies reflect some of the talent and diversity of teachers in the context of their busy lives.

Overall Results. Based on the case studies, we make the following observations:

Students Are Learning while Listening. Teachers described many examples of students involved as active learners, able to demonstrate their ability to comprehend, make inferences, and engage in critical thinking in responding to audio content. In the elementary grades through to university levels, teachers described students’ enjoyment of and delight with the experience of listening to audio. Most teachers could point to direct evidence from student performance that demonstrated the effectiveness of the learning experience.

A Wide Range of Students are Engaged in Learning. Many teachers commented on how the audio listening experience engaged students who might normally not be active class participants. Teachers recognized the value of audio content for students with special needs. A number of students expressed spontaneous pleasure and gratitude for the opportunity to use audio books as a tool for learning.

A Focus on Language Helps Literacy Development. Teachers described many instances of using audio content to help students focus on specific qualities of language, including vocabulary study, symbolism, homophones, idioms, metaphors, dialect and the use of vernacular speech.

Audio Content Supports Learning Objectives. Teachers selected a range of different types of audio content, including fiction, non-fiction, lectures, and radio magazine segments, and most described their perception of the content as highly relevant to their instructional goals and aims.

Teachers Struggle with Mastering Technology. A number of teachers (particularly elementary teachers) experienced challenges in using the Audible software and iPod shuffle technology in the classroom. Some of these problems were due to restrictions on downloading at the network level in individual school buildings; other problems resulted from teachers’ lack of familiarity with technology.

Teachers Learn from Experimenting with the Educational Potential of Audio. While participating in the case study research, teachers discovered some strategies that help make learning with audio effective. These techniques included the use of pause and discussion to promote active listening and the use of questions to encourage predictions and inference-making.

–Renee Hobbs, Temple University

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8 Responses to “How Teachers Use Audio Books in the Classroom: The Research Process”

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