If you had to decode every word you ever read, wouldn’t you tire of reading? I would. For my students, every word on a printed page is a challenge to decipher. Over time, reading struggles leave students feeling inadequate, underperforming, and frustrated. Without the right reading accommodations and tiered interventions, they will statistically fall behind and withdraw emotionally.
I am an elementary teacher and dyslexia interventionist for DeZavala Elementary School (San Marcos CISD) in San Marcos, Texas. My students are bright, underprivileged youngsters who are not good readers. I am their champion and find strategies and resources to overcome their reading barriers. I am the teacher that tells other teachers that children who cannot read well are not dumb or lazy; their brains just do not process information like yours or mine do.
Audiobook Skepticism, Breakthrough Learning
Human-read audiobooks are at the heart of my strategy to support struggling readers. Some teachers and parents are skeptical about the power of audiobooks. They ask me, “Is my child really learning when they are listening to a book read aloud?” The answer is YES!
A thoughtful human narrator with the right intonation and accurate phrasing can heighten the senses of a struggling reader. I have seen children break through the unending burden of decoding words to read with ease and to comprehend what they read. I have heard children request more books just so they can hear different voices inspire them. Many of my students now score above average on the Texas STAAR. They have become independent learners who are confident and prepared. Some have made the honor roll, received certificates, and are top ten in their classes, all great achievements.
Diving into Digital Learning
A few years ago, I decided to dive into digital learning. Our school did not have funding for technology devices, but I managed to get my hands on two Kindles. At that time, Kindles did not support Learning Ally, but a media specialist knew a workaround to get the devices to work. I handed the devices to two elementary students with stories they would never be able to read in print. Just like that, a nurturing and caring human voice made a real emotional connection with my students. Success! They understood the story. You could see real passion on their faces.
This was a game-changer. I needed more devices, so I made a video of students (Fight Song) who were excited about reading audio books and telling their story in their own words. This video was a hit with our principal and school board and we got more devices.
Inspire a Culture of Readers
Teachers cannot always find the time to develop extracurricular activities that ignite reading passion, so I appreciate 33&Me and The Great Reading Games. In these games, a digital leaderboard highlights students’ reading activity against other U.S. schools competing for cash and prizes. The leaderboard became a cheerleader for us. It fueled the flame of reading.
My students love the excitement of seeing the number of pages and books they read. This quickens their pace. They read in class, at home, and in their spare time. They listen and learn. They retain information. They discuss stories with friends. Even if we were the poorest district in Texas, my students won prizes!
Read for 20 Minutes a Day
Research says that you must practice reading fluency consistently for 20 minutes each day. Using audiobooks, my students could easily do that. They enjoyed accessing a wide range of stories on and above their grade level. They used the mobile reading app to see highlighted words, hear correct vocabulary pronunciation, and feel the excitement of the story through the narrator’s tone. With the free Learning Ally app, they can take notes for tests, build larger vocabularies, explore new genres, enjoy classic literature, and entertain themselves with popular series. As a teacher, I can do cool reading activities with audiobooks, like read with a hero, partner reading, and read with a pet.
Come on teachers! Put audiobooks into your learning mix and see struggling students ease into a story with a greater comfort level. They will understand the content. They will feel empowered. Their self-esteem and reading stamina will improve. They will develop a passion for reading and the academic rewards you have been longing for them to achieve will become a reality.
This is a guest blog by Nelda Reyes. Nelda is a Dyslexia/Leading Interventionist at DeZavala Elementary School in San Marcos CISD in San Marcos, Texas.