Archive for May, 2007 Helps Migrant Students Use Audio Content to Learn

May 16, 2007

picking while listening

Teacher: Marty Jacobson

Students: Junior High through High School, ages 12-18

Audio Content: Latino USA, and Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom by Bob Woodward


In the summer of 2006, the Montana Migrant Education Program teamed up with to provide a unique opportunity to migrant students to learn even as they were helping their families earn a living in the sugar beet fields and cherry orchards of Montana. I work with migrant students in a 24 foot mobile computer lab that travels all over Montana during the summer. The junior high and high school students travel here from Texas and Washington to work in the sugar beet fields and cherry orchards, and they attend school in the evening. Many are working on finishing up credits because they had to move before the school year ended or are working on courses that they would usually take during summer school in their home district.

A big challenge in completing credits in a migrant summer school program is time. The migrant students typically work from sunrise to 3 or 4 in the afternoon and then come to night school for 3 hours. They are only in the state for a matter of weeks, but we have high expectations that they will finish their credit work (and most do finish at least one credit). But in order to deepen the learning experience and to give students the opportunity to finish more than one credit, it would help if they could work on some things outside of school time. Unfortunately, their work schedule makes that very difficult. With an audio book, however, the students can listen to school material while on the way to and from the work site and while on the bus to and from the school. Some were also able to listen while in the fields hoeing beets or in the orchards picking cherries.



Students complete course curriculum online during night school through a program that is recognized in their home state, and they work on credits that they need in order to graduate from high school. Many of the online courses contain an offline component as well. So that students wouldn’t miss out on any course time, the lessons I used fulfilled the offline course assignments. For an economics course, students needed to read a biography of an economist and write a report about the book. For a computer skills course, students needed to complete a PowerPoint presentation that included narration, audio clips and pictures.

For the economics course, the students listened to Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom by Bob Woodward. This biography was relatively short (4 hours 30 minutes) and it was about a contemporary economist. However, the vocabulary in the book was a little above the student’s level. So to help them along, I had them keep track of how vocabulary terms from an earlier lesson were used in the book. Then in their writing, they needed to use the terms correctly and show their impact on Alan Greenspan’s economics.

In the computer skills course, the students needed to produce a PowerPoint slide show. To give the assignment a cross-curricular component, I had the students create a show that other students could use independently to learn more about current Latino issues. I had them listen to Latino
USA, a National Public Radio program. They listened to several days’ material and then chose a story that they would like to know more about. Then they researched the story on the Internet and inserted additional information, relevant pictures and citations in their PowerPoint show. As an introduction to the issue, they used a clip from the original Latino USA story. To conclude they narrated a slide with their own conclusions they drew from the story and from the research they did.

Use of Technology:

The biggest challenge in the use of Technology was listening to long pieces on the iPod Shuffle. If students accidentally reset the Shuffle or ran it out of batteries, it would reset the position in the book back to the beginning. Then it took a long time to find where they had left off. If using an iPod shuffle, I would recommend listening to short pieces, but I’ve had better luck with the regular iPod for novels.


The students were successful in listening to and understanding some fairly difficult non-fiction material. They produced interesting work that showed that they had understood the non-fiction content and could work within the digital medium. Also, by using the audio books and news programs, I saw that students were less dependent on the structure of the authors when it came time to write a summary themselves. Because they couldn’t go back and copy what the author had written, they had to rely on their own understanding of the material and use their own words. This served as a great jumping off point for a discussion of summary versus plagiarism and how a good summary internalizes the main ideas but restates them in the student’s own voice.

For ESL Students, Audio Books Make Reading a Pleasure

May 6, 2007

Teacher: Vania Gulston

Students: Grade 12 History, ages 17 – 18

Audio Content: Momma’s Baby Daddy’s Maybe by Jamise L. Dames

Location: Fairhill Community High School, Philadelphia, PA


Vania Gulston, a high school history teacher, wanted to offer her students something exceptional during their silent reading time. She turned to Audible, and students got to experiment with iPod shuffles to listen to a fast-paced urban novel filled with secrets, facades, lust, sadness, shame and love.

Use of Technology/ Classroom Lesson

Vania Gulston teaches high school at a charter school with primarily African-American and Latino students. One of her classes is Sustained Silent Reading, where students are encouraged to read quietly for half an hour. She wanted to find a novel to interest her students in reading, and a friend told her that some African American urban dramas were engaging to her daughter. She turned to Audible’s African American fiction section to find a high-interest book for her students. She downloaded Momma’s Baby Daddy’s Maybe by Jamise L. Dames and bought a hard copy of the book to photocopy sections for her students to read along.

Due to technical difficulties, Ms. Gulston was not able to hear an audio sample before downloading the book. When she bought the hard copy, she was surprised to find that the book contained some adult content and she was concerned that it was inappropriate for the classroom. She found a chapter in the book that was suitable and copied it for her students to read along as they listened. Another surprise awaited her in the classroom; the chapter headings in the audio book did not correspond with the chapter headings in the hard copy of the book.

The students were enthralled with the iPod shuffles they were handed, and asked many questions about how the iPod worked, how many songs fit on it, and what else they could do with it. They pushed buttons and searched through the chapters on the device, but could not find the correct entry point into the story that matched with the text they were given. Some students gave up and read their own books, while others listened intently to the audio book. But because Ms. Gulston was not sure which part of the book they were listening to and felt that certain parts of the book should not be part of a classroom experience, she asked them to put the iPods down and stop listening. In spite of the confusion, the students were enthusiastic about the possibilities of the iPod as a learning device and about listening to books in general. One student, Jairo Reyes, said, “For Spanish-speaking people like me, this makes it a lot easier to read English.” Another student, Luis Quevas, was eager to learn more about how to access audio books. “This totally makes sense for students,” he said. “Listening to it catches you up, more than reading or listening to a teacher read. The narrator was really good and dramatic.” A couple of the students were even imagining an audio device where the text would appear on the screen to read along! “It’s great because you can go at your own pace,” Quevas said.


Ms. Gulston was unable to listen to an audio sample in advance, and thus discovered the nature of the material only after having downloaded it. She felt that a coding or rating system would help teachers like her differentiate between materials that were age and subject appropriate. “I would also like there to be a greater selection for Latino and African American teens,” she said, as some of the available young adult material would not appeal to her students.

In spite of the problems Ms. Gulston faced with the content, she still saw the potential in using audio books in the classroom. “Usually I have to keep looking up and telling the kids to read,” she said. “When they were listening to the audio book, I could tell they were really into it, and I wouldn’t have to watch them as closely.” She was also excited about her students’ responses. “They were very mature about it,” she said, “and some of my students really understood the potential of learning from the iPod. One student said the narrator made it easy to listen to the story and understand words. And if they didn’t get the meaning the first time, they could rewind and listen again.”

Teacher Quote

“I think the students can get a lot out of using the audio book, and I was really impressed with their responses to it.”

Student Quotes

“For Spanish-speaking people like me, this makes it a lot easier to read English.”

“Listening to http://books catches you up, more than reading or listening to a teacher read… It’s great because you can go at your own pace.”

Article about the benefits of listening on literacy

May 3, 2007

A Scripts Howard article is making the rounds this week with some good info on listening and literacy.  Some highlights:

Has your child listened to a good book lately?

Listening to books — on CD, cassette or downloaded into an MP3 player — not only is fun but also can help kids develop vocabulary and improve their reading fluency, because they can listen to more difficult books than they can read in printed form.

Listening to books is particularly helpful for children whose native language isn’t English or who have reading challenges. And it’s also a great way to spark the interest of reluctant readers, reading experts say.


Could parents make more quality time with kids?

May 2, 2007

Riding home on I-95 last weekend, I noticed the glow of a DVD in the SUV to our right. Three small heads appeared to be watching a movie and it made me wonder whether the family could be doing more with their time in the car. I must caveat that without children of my own, I haven’t yet needed the power of TV to calm the natives. Still, I couldn’t help but think that if they were listening to a book, like my husband and I were, they’d be doing something together and the children could be learning more. We always chat about the books we hear when we finish or when we stop for a bit; the family could do the same and expose kids not only to more stories, but how to think about them. As a teacher, I see the impact on children made by time spent and experiences shared with their parents. This time is so hard to find, but maybe there are opportunities like this. Children emulate their parents and the behaviors and attitudes that parents model affect children profoundly. If parents are lifelong learners, children will likely follow their lead.