In recent years, much attention has been paid to increasing STEM learning in our schools and communities. In large part, this was a direct response to studies showing that the United States has been lagging behind in science and mathematics in comparison to other countries. In 2015, The Program for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study done to measure the performance of students on mathematics, science, and reading, published results that showed 23 different countries scoring higher than the US on science, and 37 countries scoring higher on math. Clearly, the attention and subsequent push for better STEM education was warranted. However, as a literacy and humanities educator, I’ve feared that the pivot towards math and science would underemphasize the dire importance of literacy and reading. The reality is, as much as our country’s continued technological and economic success depends on math and science ability, the consequences of reading struggles creep insidiously into every area of life and learning. Both science and math, as well as every other learning opportunity, depends on literacy for critical thought and understanding.
Unfortunately, many students just don’t like reading. This may be due to insecurities about one’s reading ability, fear of failure, inability to focus, or a perception that reading isn’t fun. I recall the 13-year-old version of myself responding to my parent’s demands that I read with, “I’d rather watch movies. What’s the difference?” I’m sure I don’t have to explain the obvious differences here, but what if we could’ve met that 13-year-old version of me somewhere in the middle?
Audiobooks. Before you recoil in horror, wondering how skirting the act of actually reading could possibly benefit a student’s reading ability, consider the many benefits that audiobooks offer. Assistant Professor of Reading Education at the College of William & Mary, Denise Johnson, cites audiobooks as being able to: introduce students to books above their reading level, model good interpretive reading, teach critical listening, highlight the humor in books, introduce genres students wouldn’t otherwise consider, introduce students to new vocabulary, sidestep unfamiliar dialects and literary styles, and more. As you might imagine, audiobooks can be the evidence students need to see that books really can be fun, interesting, engaging, and special. They can bridge the gap from a love of narrative in movies and video games to the more full narrative worlds of literature.
In short, audiobooks counteract all of the excuses young people have for avoiding reading, and even sidestep the issue of reading stamina, which is a real concern in the age of social media. Put them on in the car, during dinner, or before bed—anytime is a good time for an audiobook.