Author Archive

The Harrington School of Communication a

May 15, 2012

The Harrington School of Communication and Media is hiring for a young scholar-practitioner in #Latino or #Caribbean #community #media — apply now!

Save the date: We’re screening and disc

March 26, 2012

Save the date: We’re screening and discussing “Miss Representation” March 28 in Kirk Center Aud #URI #RI #medialiteracy

Anyone in #RI up for learning more about

February 8, 2012

Anyone in #RI up for learning more about #copyright and #fairuse for #digital #learning? We’re scheduling a spring webinar for you to learn more. Call 401-874-4925 to learn more #edtech #medialiteracy

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.”

Reluctant Readers Become Enthusiastic Participants

April 26, 2007

Teacher: Sarah Small

Students: Grade 11 English, ages 16-17

Audio Content: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Location: Springfield Township High School, Erdenheim, PA



English teacher Sarah Small, an 11th-grade teacher from Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania, had been teaching Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel about a troubled marriage. Ms. Small logged on to and downloaded the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman to immerse her students in turn-of-the-century gender relationships and to allow her more freedom to engage with students’ reading process.

Classroom Observation

As a complement to Ethan Frome, Ms. Small chose Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” about a sickly woman trapped in her marriage and descending into madness. To help students make connections between the short story and the novel, she handed out a copy of the story, a story grid to help students take notes while listening, and a set of discussion questions about the short story and its relationship to the novel.

Ms. Small paused the story every few pages and asked the students questions about the development of the main character and her relationship with her husband. “I knew they weren’t going to be able to just sit through a 26- minute story. I wanted to make sure they picked up on key elements and built on them,” Ms. Small said.

As the students listened, Ms. Small walked around the class and noted her students’ engagement and note-taking process. “I felt freed up in the classroom to do things I would normally not have the attention to do,” she said. When asked, students volunteered answers and traced the shifting relationships of the main character’s growing madness throughout the story. They noticed how the author shaped her characters and their relationships, and detected key moments foreshadowing the main character’s madness before they were exposed to the story’s shocking final scene. By discussing the story as the class listened to it, they could follow the story at the same pace and share their reactions as the tale developed. “It helps everyone stay on task and participate,” said Jimmy Barraclaugh, one of the students. When they listened to the final shocking scene, the room was filled with exclamations of surprise, from “wow!” to “weird!” It took the students a few minutes to adjust to the narration; the narrator had a lisp. As the story progressed, though, the narrator’s voice became an integral part of the character. Listening to the story also helped students with vocabulary words and reading comprehension. One of the students said, “I could almost hear the story playing in my head, which helped me answer some of the questions.”


Ms. Small noticed that her special needs students responded actively and eagerly to the story. They raised their hands more often and were engaged in listening to the story and following the text. The common experience invited everyone into the discussion. Reluctant readers became enthusiastic participants, as one of the barriers to accessing the literature was removed. One student, Anna Haines, told her parents about the experience and said, “My parents thought this was a wonderful aid to help teenagers like me, who may not enjoy reading so much, learn to like it.” As another complementary exercise for Ethan Frome, she showed her students the film version of the book. They immediately were caught up in the actors on screen, what other movies they played in, and other distractions. “They were able to stay more focused with the audio than when watching the movie,” Ms. Small observed. Listening to an audio book in the classroom freed Ms. Small to attend to her students and make sure they were paying attention and taking notes. It allowed her to think on her feet and jot down notes and questions about the story to share with her students. “It gave me the liberty to do more in the classroom,” she said. Ms. Small is continuing to use Audible for her English classes. She hooked students on The Great Gatsby by playing the first chapter in class; now they’re excited to go home and read the rest.

Teacher Quote

“I felt freed up in the classroom to do things I would normally not have the attention to do.”

Student Quote

“My parents thought this was a wonderful aid to help teenagers like me, who may not enjoy reading so much, learn to like it.”

Talking about Audio at the International Reading Association

April 25, 2007

Audio is on the agenda at the International Reading Association, the largest conference of literacy educators in the world.

Brian Fitzgerald and I will be presenting a session at the International Reading Association in Toronto on Thursday, May 17 entitled, “Using Audio Books to Promote Critical Literacy.” We’ll be sharing results from our work with teachers’ use of audiobooks— you’re seeing some examples from this work on this blog.

In addition, Kelli Esteves from Acquinas College will be making a presentation on “Audio-Assisted Reading With Audiobooks” on Wednesday, May 16, where she will provide specific techniques for using audio-assisted reading with audiobooks to improve attitudes and increase fluency for struggling readers.

At the conference on Monday May 14 at 11 am, Renee will offer a book signing for her book, Reading the Media: Media Literacy in High School English (Teachers College Press, 2007) at the TC Booth. She’ll also be on a panel discussion about the new book she co-edited entitled Handbook of Research on Teaching Literacy through the Visual and Communicative Arts on Tuesday, May 15 at 1 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Bringing Scientific and Social Issues Alive with Authentic Voices

April 25, 2007

Teacher: Meghan Nolan, Grade 6 Math & Science Teacher

Students: Grade 6, ages 11 – 12

Audio Content: Talk of the Nation Science Friday, September 12, 2000

Location: Ethical Cultural Fieldston School, Bronx, NY



As part of a unit on hydrology, Meghan Nolan’s science students ran experiments on model rivers in the science lab, investigating the impact of human manipulation of natural streams. Ms. Nolan wanted students to connect the lab experience with real, current issues in order to strengthen their understanding and sense of purpose. She also wanted to broaden their sense of environmental issues while fostering their developing sense of ethics.

Ms. Nolan has found that, often, written material on science created for this age is too simple to spark real engagement and learning, while the vocabulary of news reports and scientific analysis of natural phenomena is often too sophisticated. Therefore, to achieve her goal of engaging students in a meaningful way, Ms. Nolan chose to use an NPR Talk of the Nation/Science Friday radio debate about the proposed intentional flooding of the Missouri River. Ms. Nolan structured a series of lessons in which students listened, took notes, discussed and debated among themselves. At the end, students produced short public service announcements to state their opinions while referencing their experimental results and notes from the audio program.


Use of Technology

Ms. Nolan downloaded six copies of the Science Friday piece, one to her desktop and five to school laptops. She also downloaded copies to six school-owned mp3 players as well as some of her students’ personal mp3 players. Using computers and mp3 players along with a set of computer speakers, headphones and headphone splitters, she was able to deliver all of her lessons efficiently. Most students were familiar with iTunes and the devices; what would have made the experience even simpler would have been if the program could have been “bookmarked” by the teacher so students could go directly to a particular part.

Classroom Observation

Ms. Nolan split up the Audible content into five separate lessons, each focusing on a segment ranging from 10 to 20 minutes. For the first three lessons, students listened in a group setting as Ms. Nolan played the content through speakers attached to her laptop. This allowed Ms. Nolan to stop, clarify and discuss the program as needed for each group. Ms. Nolan gave students a term bank, a list of speakers in the order in which they appear, and a chart to help students record key points in the debate. During these sessions, it was clear that students were engaged and working to listen to each point. At some points, students needed to stop roughly every couple of minutes to sort out and debate the points being made. Although students needed some clarification on the language of the debate, they were willing to voice their questions, especially those who are often passive during discussion. Listening also leant itself well to discussion after the listening exercises; and students felt comfortable paraphrasing, which showed that they understood these sophisticated arguments. At the end of each of these sessions, students worked in groups to chart the key points. For homework, they were asked to write questions they would have asked the debaters had they been in the room.

For the final two lessons, students listened on their own or with a partner (using a headphone splitter) and were able to stop, start and relisten as they needed. Some students chose to work alone while others preferred to collaborate and make decisions with a partner. Ms. Nolan was unsure about students’ ability to listen on their own to such challenging content, but she was pleasantly surprised overall. Students who were comfortable with the issues and format were able to listen on their own, take meaningful notes and present key points in discussion afterwards. Other students either worked with a partner or checked in with Ms. Nolan to process and clarify. Ms. Nolan checked in on every student and found that she was able to support the students who needed help as others worked independently. A few students had taken such an interest in the issues at hand that several worked outside of class to research how the issues had evolved in the past six years and presented their findings to the class.



Ms. Nolan felt that her 6th graders were deeply engaged in this exercise. She found that, compared to students’ typical level of engagement with classroom activities, students more actively developed an understanding of the scientific principles through their comments and questions about the audio program. The social nature of the subject – the flooding of the Missouri River – allowed students the opportunity to hear real voices and language in context. This mix seemed to lower the barrier to discussion for many kids who often remain quiet. The students took more risks than usual with respect to the vocabulary they chose and concepts they described. Ms. Nolan observed that students showed a deeper concern for the people introduced and issues described in the program compared to when they have been tasked with reading textual material supporting their lab experiments. The combination of the audio program, support material and starting with a group listening exercise created an effective scaffold to allow students to effectively listen to the final two lessons independently.

Teacher Quote:

“In our fall unit we study hurricanes, and students struggle with the language in daily storm updates. This debate also contained challenging language and concepts, but students were willing to discuss it, take risks on repeating words and seek clarification in a way that they weren’t with written text.”

“I am most surprised by how genuinely concerned students are with the issues. My students are from the New York area, have no experience with agricultural life and little awareness of how they rely on rivers, even though they are surrounded by them. Hearing the voices of farmers explain how a simple change to the river could affect their lives so dramatically had a powerful impact and made the issue real to my students.”

Audio Intensifies the Reading Experience for Teens

April 20, 2007

Teacher: Christine Settino

Students: Grade 11 English, ages 16-17

Audio Content: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Location: Springfield Township High School, Erdenheim, PA


English teacher Christine Settino’s 11th grade class was reading Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel about a turn-of-the-century husband and his sickly wife. Ms.Settino thought that an audio book would be fun to listen to in class, and she thought that her students would enjoy the novelty of the experience. She and her teaching assistant, Nicole Greaves, played the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as a complementary text. They were surprised to find how well students, especially special needs students, responded to the listening exercise.

Use of Technology/Experience in Class

Ms. Settino played the story on a stereo for her class. To help students make connections between the short story and the novel, she handed out a set of discussion questions about the short story and its relationship to the novel. She also handed out a story grid to help students take notes. The students listened to the story from beginning to end while following along on a printed copy. After listening, students sat together in groups of two or three to discuss the story’s relationship to the novel. Ms. Settino and her assistant teacher circulated among the groups, commenting and answering questions where needed. Some students talked about the language of the story; they found resonance between the main character’s constant reference to “creeping” and horror movies. Others commented that listening to the story made the characters and events more vivid to them. As a complement to Ethan Frome, the story painted a picture for the students of turn-of-the-century life, especially the stiff social rules and gender roles of the upper middle-class.


Ms. Settino was surprised at how well her students reacted to the audio story. “I thought it would be a novelty to hear the story and have a different kind of experience with it,” Ms. Settino said. But the real surprise was that some of the students who usually had a difficult time with literature were absorbing the story and were more engaged in discussion. They were able to see clearly themes common to the two stories such as sickness and how it reflected women’s roles in turn-of-the-century America. They also noted the similarities in how sickness was treated in that era. Ms. Settino was glad to see that listening to the story engaged students in a new way. “Kids that were normally not responsive were more involved. That was unexpected and great,” she said.

Teacher Quote

“Kids don’t all engage with literature in the same way, and this way of engaging with literature seemed to make meaning, especially for special needs kids.”

Listening Engages all Students in Learning

April 9, 2007

Teacher: Lynne Greenberg

Students: Grade 6, ages 11 – 12

Audio Content: From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools


Lynne Greenberg’s 6th grade class at Carnell Elementary in Philadelphia includes a mixture of successful and struggling students. Attempting to engage both, Ms. Greenberg went to and downloaded E.L. Konigsburg’s: From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler to teach valuable listening skills while also connecting the story with vocabulary and art lessons.

Use of Technology

Ms. Greenberg logged onto, downloaded From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler and burned it onto a CD, which she played for the class on a stereo. Ms. Greenberg learned that she would have to burn multiple CDs at a lower speed setting—much slower than her computer was capable of—for the CD’s sound quality to be at its best. One notable frustration was the infrequent tracks, which would stop only every 4 chapters or in the middle of a chapter. She had no way to mark the place and would have to scan through the CD to find where they had left off.

Experience in Class

Ms. Greenberg conducted audio listening lessons over a series of days. Each session began with a student volunteered recap of the previous day’s action. The class would listen to the book in 15-minute segments and stop to discuss, clarify, and reiterate the action. Ms. Greenberg tried to foster a place for open discourse, challenging students to relate what was happening in the story to modern day life. She would ask, “Could this happen today? Why or why not? If you were in this situation, what would you do? What kinds of events have you seen in the news that makes you think this would be unlikely?” She explained what an “aside” was and would challenge the students to discern when particular people were speaking and in what time frame. (The story shifted between past and present tense; a dialogue taking place in the present, and acted out action in the past.) “Who is the I?” she asked. “Who is telling the story?” Ms. Greenberg also often pulled out vocabulary words to discuss in between listening sessions including words such as miser, as well as more dated words like automat, petticoat and sissy. She also used the story to help students identify homophones. Ms. Greenberg asked the class to explain the phrase, “The quiet seeped from their heads to their soles and into their souls.”


At first, Ms. Greenberg’s shy students were reluctant to participate. But as the lessons progressed, the students became more and more involved. “I never expected my typically quiet kids to participate,” she says of her class. “But they did.” After listening to several chapters, students volunteered answers more readily than they usually did. When Ms. Greenberg asked what words could be used to describe characters in the story, a sea of hands shot up. Students called out suggestions like “determined,” “adventurous,” “brave,” “resourceful” and “clever.”

Ms. Greenberg began each lesson with a short recap of the story so far and asked students what they thought would happen next. She was surprised at how intently they listened to the story and especially at the astute observations they were making. She was especially pleased to see how some of her more challenged students responded. “One of my students has a processing problem and [during the study] he participated all the time.” Overall, Ms. Greenberg was very pleased with how the students took an interest in the audio books and especially in their desire to learn more about the topics discussed in the stories.

Teacher’s Quote

“The most rewarding part has been seeing that the kids enjoy as much as I do… and to get them to love listening!”

Emotional Connection to a Story through Listening and Guided Visualization

April 3, 2007

Teacher: Kristina McGuirk

Students: Grade 3, ages 8-9

Audio Content: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh

Location: Woodlynde School, Strafford, PA


Ms. McGuirk’s 3rd grade class had been working on their Iditarod Unit. Hoping to integrate audio into the classroom that would complement her curriculum, she logged onto and perused their books featuring dog themes. Having read the book a number of years ago and believing that her students would enjoy it, she selected Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh, a classic children’s story about an 11-year old boy and his dog in rural West Virginia.

Use of Technology

Ms. McGuirk faced difficulty in downloading the Audible content due to the firewall in the school server, but discovered she could access content from her personal computer. She downloaded Shiloh, burned it onto a CD and broadcast the story to her class with a CD player. But with the track selection, it was difficult for Ms. McGuirk to find where she had left off on the previous day. There was also slight feedback, compromising the sound of the audio. On the second day of listening, the CD seemed to be scratched and would periodically skip. This proved to be distracting to most students, along with an inexplicable clicking noise coming from the CD.

Experience in the Classroom

Since Shiloh is a longer chapter book, the listening activities continued over a series of days, as the class listened to one chapter a day. Each day, a student-volunteered recap of the previous action would provide a framework for the students to begin listening. They would reiterate the action, setting and background knowledge. The students were given blank sheets of paper to draw scenes from each chapter, and they wrote about the story. The students listened to the story and seemed very absorbed in it, obviously connecting to it emotionally. As they listened, Ms. McGuirk wrote key words on the board; concepts, characters and vocabulary words.

At the end of the listening segment, Ms. McGuirk asks the students to help her define the various words on the board. “What qualities and characteristics do you know about Judd Travers?” she asked. Students volunteer answers such as, “He cheats,” “He hunts deer out of season,” and “He spits tobacco.” They also went over vocabulary words such as veterinarian, cornmeal mush and shrug. Students also made connections between the book and other media, as one student compared a tobacco-chewing character from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” to a character in the book, Judd.


After the students finished listening to Chapter Two, they were vocal about their distrust and hatred toward Judd Travers, the story’s antagonist. One student says he wants “to kill him,” while another says he wants to “throw a pencil in his eye.” Students also reacted emotionally during the part where Shiloh’s owner eats a rabbit – “eww!” Their passionate reaction clearly suggested that they were engaging with the story. The students also sympathized with the story’s protagonist, Marty. They were able to understand some of the conflicts that he was going through and identify with him. The students reported that they didn’t like the book because they had trouble connecting to a different culture than their own and thought the book was “weird.” When asked how this experience differed from more conventional reading, Ms. McGuirk says that the narrator’s accent made it more real and helped transport to listeners to another world, though it also was a hindrance.

Teacher Quote

“Many of my students have auditory processing issues and it was difficult for them to understand parts the story. Even so, I believe that hearing the dialect, along with guided visualization, helps to bring the story to life and strengthen the students’ listening skills and comprehension.”