Enhancing Literacy Skills Using Audiobooks

Girl listening on headphones

Have you wondered whether students 'get as much' from listening to audiobooks as they do from reading the printed text? This is a question we hear frequently. Now, we have the results of a study to provide the answer.

In a recently published Master's thesis, Canice Maher presented the findings of a study of second graders' comprehension and enjoyment of audiobooks. The study investigated the impact of integrating audiobooks into a single second grade classroom in an international school in Finland. By using pre- and post-study surveys, the researcher found that there was no statistically significant difference in student comprehension whether they read or listened to the text. Additionally, students reported enjoying the text more when they were permitted to listen to it, over reading the text. 

Maher describes students in Finland as "moving away from reading in recent years" (p. 9). Additionally, following the Finnish National Curriculum, "students are being taught to be more autonomous about their learning" (p.10), with some focus on "digital know-how" and viewing technology as tools instead of toys. The study focused on comprehension and enjoyment of audiobooks as a form of technology that could be used as a tool and also as a relatively new format that might engage students' interest more, better, or longer than traditional print books. 

While the study investigated the use of audiobooks only for listening (i.e. not paired with texts), the goal was "not to find an alternative to reading, yet to expand the avenues through which children can experience literature and text" (p.12). If you would like to read the full thesis, and to view the data from the study, please click here

Importantly, the researcher mentions in that the duration of listening was kept intentionally short. Students in the study had not used audiobooks in a school setting previously, and most had not listened to an audiobook outside of school either. In between short periods of listening (around ten minutes), the students were encouraged to discuss the story. This way, students were kept engaged and attentive to the audio. The study did not mention the use of listening activities, but those can also be used to help increase students' stamina for attentive listening.

Though the results of this study are limited in terms of generalizability, the evidence for audiobooks having value and providing support for literacy instruction is there. We know that students who are struggling with dyslexia or medical concerns, and English Learners can be supported by just listening. Studies like this provide more proof that audiobooks benefit all students. How will you incorporate listening into your literacy instruction?

Download the full thesis here:

Enhancing Literacy Skills Using Audiobooks by Canice Maher


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