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Audible.com 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

Introduction:

In the summer of 2006, the Montana Migrant Education Program teamed up with Audible.com 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.

Lesson:

 

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.

Summary/Results:

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.

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.

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

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Introduction

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 Audible.com 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.”

Summary/Results

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

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Introduction

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.

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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.

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Summary/Results

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

Introduction

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.

Summary/Results

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


Introduction

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 Audible.com 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 Audible.com, 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.”

Summary/Results

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!”

New audio: Biographies, classics, YA, and popular kids’ titles

April 5, 2007

We have a big collection of new digital audio, so we’ll dive right in. This week, I’ll group titles by their respective age ranges.

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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

Introduction

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 Audible.com 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 Audible.com 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.

Summary/Results

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.”

Developing Imagination through Listening and Diversifying the Teaching Experience

April 3, 2007

Teacher: Barbara Begelman

Students: Grade 6, ages 11 – 12

Audio Content: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools


Introduction

Barbara Begelman, a 4th grade teacher at Carnell Elementary in Philadelphia, longed for a curriculum that encouraged creativity. Wanting to engage the student’s fertile imaginations, she chose to download C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from Audible.com and gave her students creative assignments that would spark their imaginations.

Use of Technology

Ms. Begelman logged onto Audible.com and downloaded the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, burned it onto a CD and played it on a stereo for class. Ms. Begelman commented that the CD often sounded “fuzzy.”

Classroom Observation

The narrator’s distinct voice drew the students into the story and helped transport them to another time and place. She also distributed blank sheets of paper and crayons, encouraging the students to draw as they listened. Their task was open-ended: Draw scenes and characters from the book or draw whatever you feel. Ms. Begelman played the book in ten-minute segments, pausing to ask questions about the plot and characters in the story. There were often several eager hands waving in desperation to answer her questions. Ms. Begelman asked the students questions like: “What new developments have occurred? What kind of person does Edmund seem like? Why do people make up stories? What do you think will happen next?” To gauge their retention skills, she also asked select students who struggle with conventional reading to retell parts of the story. As the audio played, she would walk around the classroom encouraging students to create mental images based on the descriptions in the story.

Summary/Results

Ms. Begelman was impressed with how some of her usually inattentive children were not only interested in the story and assignments, but were often times begging for more. She reports that the kid’s drawings showed a creativity that’s often lacking in other assignments. “They drew very graphic facial expressions,” she said, adding that “they really seem to be listening.” Students who struggle with retention in conventional reading also seemed to benefit from listening to the audio books. When Ms. Begelman asked particular students to retell the story, students who normally have trouble speaking in front of others or have a hard time recalling details gave intricate retellings of the plot. Ms. Begelman found that it worked best to play the audio in ten-minute segments, and then to stop and discuss. She reported: “I couldn’t play more than ten minutes at a time without the kids losing attention. My questions helped them stay on track.”

Teacher’s Quote

“It was like having a second teacher in the classroom. The kids enjoyed the activity and many would come up to me and ask for it. I think it was also useful because it gave students the chance to listen to a second voice instead of mine all the time.”