Why One English Teacher Values the Audiobook
Posted by: Mary Burkey
Author Amy Huntley shares her thoughts on the “reading or cheating” audiobook debate. What a wonderful boost for educators who integrate audiobooks in their reading & language arts instruction! I’m printing this out to add to my file of audiobook research and forwarding to those who need ammunition in combating resistance to listing to literature. Learn more about Amy, author of The Everafter, in this “Inside the Audiobook Studio” interview.” Thank you so much, Amy, for being today’s guest blogger here at Audiobooker!
Why One English Teacher Values the Audiobook
I’ve long enjoyed listening to audiobooks. Most often I listen to them when I’m in the car, but I also like to listen to them at night as I’m falling asleep. Perhaps that’s a carryover from the very-long-gone days of my childhood when my parents read to me at night. But whatever the reason, I’ve enjoyed listening to stories for a long time.
I have to admit, though, that for years I have—in varying degrees—accepted society’s prejudice against the audiobook, thinking it not quite of the same caliber as the experience of “reading” a written text. I haven’t been nearly as prejudiced as some people, some…Ah-hummm, English teachers. But still, it’s hard to overcome the kind of preference for written text that’s been long embedded in our educational institutions.
I taught a class this past year, though, which pushed through those final barriers of prejudice for me. I had a group of remedial tenth graders who informed me that they hated to read. They had always hated to read. There was nothing they hated more than reading. If they’d had the words “loath” and “detest” in their somewhat limited lexicons, I’m sure they’d have emerged among that class’ loud assertions about the evils of reading.
This group of students was also one of the most difficult groups I had ever had when it came to controlling their impulses. They had very little understanding of what a classroom was supposed to be, why it was set up the way it was, or what the purpose of schooling was period. At least for them.
And I discovered that the ONLY tool I had in my teacher toolbox that could calm these students down and get them to stop hurting themselves and others was…to read to them. I’ve often had to read to groups of remedial students over the years. It’s something I love doing. But this group was different. For the survival of everyone in that classroom, I had to do far more reading aloud than usual.
Amazing things happened when I read to this group. They didn’t just listen, although they did do that. They asked questions. They clarified text. They made predictions. They commented on the choices characters were making. They connected what characters were doing with the choices they made in their own lives.
In short, they were doing everything that “readers” do. Everything that English teachers hope “readers” will do. Even when it got hard.
Toward the end of the year, I finally said to this group, “You know, you guys are readers. You truly are.”
So loud were their angry protestations at being so “misread” by me after ten months of our being together that I thought they would shout me right out the door. I calmed them down enough to explain what readers do when reading. And to point out that they did everyone of those things whenever I read to them.
“Yeah, but that’s not reading,” one of them protested. “We can only do that if you read to us.”
“So what?” I said. “That’s still reading. You guys love stories. You love hearing them. So listen to them. Read audiobooks. I bet you’ll turn in to lifelong readers.”
“That’s not reading,” they continued to assert.
So strenuously did I have to argue with them about this that the last vestiges of my own prejudice began to disintegrate. I knew I’d obliterated it completely when, in the course of the argument, I said, “Hey, you guys, my sister-in-law is blind. The only access she has to books is audiobooks. She listens to them regularly. All the time. Loves them. We talk about books with each other because she listens to them and I run my eyeballs over the pages. Are you going to tell me that she’s not a ‘reader’?”
They were stumped.
So was I. I’d just argued myself into a whole new way of thinking.
I’m going to work harder at getting all my students to realize that audiobooking is ‘reading’. Maybe I need a new word for the other process—that one where the eyeball scans the page. Maybe that will help break down the walls of prejudice that remain against audiobooking. As a society, we need to allow the word “reading” to apply as much to listening to text as to using our eyes to take it in. We need to abolish that prejudice that says, “Yeah, but when someone else reads the text to you, they’re interpreting it, so you’re not really having the true reading experience.” Seriously? How did written text get so much status? We don’t hold that prejudice when it comes to attending a play. What’s that if not an interpretation of written text? Did Homer’s listeners think, “Yeah, but he’s interpreting our mythology for us, so this is less valid than if he’d just write it out and let us read it”?
Audiobooking is reading. I want students to read. I want students to have the words “detest” and “loath” in their vocabularies so they can apply it as much to narrow definitions of reading as to anything else they want to. And if they get that from reading audiobooks…
© Amy Huntley, 2009