Books, ebooks and audiobooks, oh my!

Books, ebooks and audiobooks, oh my!

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Key points:

  • Audiobooks are popular, but print still dominates the majority of audiences
  • A balance of the two provides students with increased accessibility
  • See Related Article: 5 Long-Term Benefits of Our Online Literacy Programs

My #BritReads 2023 book count saw a massive downturn in April when my husband and I welcomed Holden Lane into the world. After about a week of late-night silent feedings, I found myself dozing off while reading a printed book. It had nothing to do with the nature of the content and everything to do with the fact that I was just tired. Because I’m a compulsive multitasker, I decided nighttime feedings required headphones and audiobooks. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t doze off or zone out for a section here or there, but overall the audiobooks got me my #BritReads book fix, even with a newborn.

Despite my affinity for audiobooks, looking at the book industry’s sales figures, it’s clear that print is still king. I agree, nothing like turning the page of a printed book. But audiobook reviewers say the format doesn’t count as reading… I disagree.

There is a time and a place for every format in my life…and in schools today.

While I listen to audiobooks to multitask while cooking, cleaning, or driving, they can also help reluctant readers get excited about books with their often high-quality output. Therese Bennett Hatfield, librarian at Valley Middle School in Carlsbad, California, promotes the use of audiobooks in education. “Audiobooks are used as a tool to help ELL students or students who read maybe a little below grade level,” Hatfield said. “Audiobooks allow the student to consume the same content as their peers and participate in the discussion. Students can follow their physical copy while listening to the audiobook, allowing them to strengthen word recognition at the both in text and in speech. They also allow students a different way of consuming books. Students may think they don’t like to read, but an audiobook can make a book come to life for them, expanding what it means to be a reader.

To me, a story is a story no matter what format it is consumed in. Many educators, like Tom Bober, Library Media Specialist (AKA Captain Library), District Library Coordinator in the Clayton School District, agree that the preference should be student-focused. “Information is information regardless of the format and how a student can access it,” Bober explained. “So recommending an eBook over a print book really looks at how and when the student wants to access the book. If they want a book that’s not in our collection, sometimes it’s faster to buy a digital book than waiting for a print book to be delivered. If the student is going to be out of school or has another reason why digital access may be easier, that may be another reason to suggest Additionally, some eBooks have annotation and tracking tools that students prefer as part of their reading experience, which is another good reason to suggest an eBook.

E-books and audiobooks also provide students with additional accessibility options, as educators around the world know. Graeme Boyd, Middle and High School Librarian at Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana, told me: “As students enter primary and middle school, they can take advantage of e-book accessibility tools that don’t are not available in printed books. Students can look up definitions of words they don’t understand as they read them without having to leave the book to do so. Students can highlight books and annotate their readings while saving those notes for future class discussion. Most eReaders allow students to customize their experiences using the dark contrast mode and the ability to change text size and use fonts such as those specifically designed for dyslexia. At this age, students can take full advantage of eBook accessibility tools to help them learn to become better readers. »

“In high school, students can access a wide variety of books through a digital school library that is available to them 24/7. Gone are the days of the classroom teacher bringing the whole class to the library to check out books, so they must rely on the ability to access library materials in new ways. As students progress through adolescence and adolescence, they often become more explorers of the genres and formats they enjoy reading. Digital books allow them to explore these new formats on their own and at their own pace. As readers, they are empowered to make these individual choices themselves on a platform where the materials have been carefully selected for them.

Kira Brennan, an innovation and library systems specialist at Parkway Schools in Missouri, uses e-books that have reading capabilities with her youngest students. “From an early age, children can access e-books that are read alongside. Every page is there and available in vibrant colors like in a printed book,” Brennan said. “The benefits of digital reading aloud are numerous. Text is often highlighted when the narrator reads aloud, allowing children to see the connection between spoken and written language. Often the narrator is a well-known voice with a professional background in storytelling. Sometimes there are even soundtracks that accompany reading aloud, allowing the child to engage and interact with a book in an immersive way that simply isn’t possible during reading a printed book. The enjoyable experience that students begin to instill in the joy of reading that we want our students to have in order to become lifelong readers. »

Despite the documented value of various book formats, the pendulum has swung from nearly all digital formats during the pandemic to nearly all print after the pandemic. “Print can provide visual cues such as illustrations and iconography that aid in understanding language,” Boyd said. “Graphic novels in particular, by their very nature, can facilitate critical thinking and vocabulary mastery through stimulating and enjoyable visual representations. The best student readers I have come across come from reading homes. Parents are role models. Teachers (and parents) are role models. Both should be seen reading, both should read aloud to their children or students, both should visit bookstores and public libraries.

Bober shared that the traditional library filled with printed books allows students to discover. “I think one of the benefits of a print library is layout. With sections and collections by genre that allow students to easily access the story or information they want; a print collection can cater to a student’s interest when they don’t know a specific title they want to read. The ease of browsing a well-organized print collection encourages a student to express interest in a selection of books they will love.

In the face of digital fatigue and the return to in-person teaching, Bober encourages teachers to keep an open mind about digital resources: “I saw a swing as teachers wanted to move students off digital devices as much as possible. as soon as we were back to teaching and learning in person. I think it settled in a better place. And what these many months have revealed to many librarians and teachers is how easy digital access can be. Even as we embrace digital resources, e-books and audiobooks, the onset of the pandemic has forced us to take this thinking even further and embrace this resource. The benefits that have emerged around ease of access and the fact that some students prefer this method of accessing information and history are things that we do not lose sight of as we come to a new standard in how we provide resources to our learners.

Many educators I know believe that a mix will continue to be essential in the future. The discussion should not be about whether to provide printed or digital materials, but rather how to provide equitable access to both types for all students. Students’ ability to navigate both formats competently will give them the best chance of success both in their current classroom and in future educational experiences. “We live in a digital age where reliance on one format or the other will have a profound negative impact on our students’ ability to interact with the world around them,” Boyd continues.

As we prepare for a new school year, I encourage everyone to try a different book format this summer and use it as an opportunity to set an example for students in your classroom or in your life. Whether you love it, hate it, or embrace all three, you can have a new conversation about reading.

PS Now that I read children’s books aloud every day, I have an even greater admiration for audiobook readers because doing multiple voices takes a talent I don’t have!

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