Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thoughts On Reading vs. Listenting to Audio Books

Before I tell the main story I figured I should make a general statement. The reason why children hearing books read aloud to them by a parent or listening to an audio book format is good rather than forcing them to only read or be exposed to books that they read to themselves is mainly because children, if allowed to move or do what they want while listening, are willing to listen and can understand content far above their independent reading level. A child's vocabulary and ability to understand and enjoy stories and non-fiction information is superior to their reading skills for a number of years. It starts nearly at birth or at least at about age one, when the language they can understand is above what they can speak. I don't know when it ends, perhaps only when a child or teenager's reading ability progresses beyond a certain 'grade level in reading ability' such as grade 12, I don't know.

An easy example is that a child of age six who is just learning to read will listen to long passages about insects with rich vocabulary and understand it. If you were to give that child a book on spiders written at their independent reading level it would read something like this:

"Spiders make webs. Spiders eat insects. The web is to catch the insects. Spiders live outside. Some spiders live indoors."

You probably would not speak to a child of six in that way as it would be considered (at least in our family) as being patronizing and condescending. A child of six years old is not an idiot and should not be talked to like they are one.

Giving a child of six over-simplified information like that which is below their mental capacities is one way that I feel that adults actually, unintentionally, 'make a child stupid'. All children should be exposed to content which they want to learn about that is interesting and understandable to them. Depriving children of information or to better stories dumbs a child down and hinders their intellectual development.

Now on to my story...

My older son is listening to the last Harry Potter book on audio CD right now which we finally have in our possession, having borrowed it from the library. We were number 24 on the waiting list, and I had put us on the hold list just a day or two after the book was published!

Back when the book came out he read half of the book, then stopped.

Today I asked why he prefers to listen to stories, even very long audio books. Harry Potter #6 which he has listened to three times, was 27 hours long and Harry Potter #7 is over 21 hours long. He said that when he reads he has to concentrate on the visual reading part, and to do that he has to tune out the sounds around him, which is not always easy for him, and he has to sit or lay still to read and can't move around much.

He says he prefers to listen because he can move around if he wants. What he does typically is sit and then change to laying down. Sometimes he looks out a window or looks at things in the room. He moves his head around. He does not jump around or run or do anything spastic like that, just in case you were picturing that scene! He said he likes to play with LEGOs, to use and move his hands to make new things. He said sometimes he moves his LEGO Bionicles to pretend they are characters in the story, to act out the story. Sometimes he tosses a ball or plays with a squishy Koosh-type toy, keeping his hands busy. He said he likes the freedom to move, to change position, to use his hands and to touch things and to move things in his hands, none of which he can do if he is holding a book, sitting still and keeping his eyes focused on the page.

Today I had planned to do our regular homeschooling lessons with him but he is 'on a roll' with the story. He is over half way done with the audiobook and we've had it in our possession for less than three days. He is at that point where you want to know what will happen next and you don't want to stop reading (or listening) so you cram it into every possible minute that you can.

I remember when I read the book in July, I stopped the regular stuff that I'd do and used each spare moment to read the book to see what was going to happen. So I decided that to force other types of learning things onto him at this point in time would actually be cruel punishment.

So, I'm letting him finish the story.

Anyhow I'm counting it as a literature lesson so it actually gets 'counted' as homeschooling, so what does it matter if these few days are all about Harry Potter? The spelling, grammar lessons, vocabulary and math can wait a few days...

By the way this discussion on listening vs. reading is interesting to me. I myself find it easier to read a book than to listen to an audiobook. I find with audiobooks that the ability for me to move or look around and see other things that have nothing to do with the content of the book distract me. I often will start thinking of other things, my mind will wander, then I realized I missed some parts of the audiobook and will have to rewind it to find the place where I started drifting off. I have tried to 'fake it' and not do that but sometimes a book will make no sense after that so I have no choice but to rewind and re-listen.

I do fine with audiobooks or recorded lectures if I am busy doing repetitive tasks that are boring and that don't stimulate my brain such as washing dishes, putting away clean dishes, sweeping and mopping a floor or folding laundry.

One more thing, I don't do well with listening to audiobooks in the car. My mind wanders away from paying close attention to my driving, I am more on autopilot. When I was working full time in "life before kids" part of my life I was driving to work at 6:30am so I'd beat the commuter traffic and got a speeding ticket for going 75 mph in a 55 mph zone on I-95. The roads were clear, the sun was out, and I had inadvertently put the pedal to the metal while listening to 1984 by George Orwell. The next thing that happened on another day was that while in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic in the rain I was in a car accident, at the back of a four car pile-up, a minor fender bender type of thing (no injuries). I figured at the time that my reaction time was slower due to not paying attention as much as I should have been. After that I ditched the audiobooks in the car and went back to talk radio or music.

Right now when we listen to children's books in the car while I'm driving I have a hard time catching all of the story. I end up missing parts due to mind-drifting or forcing myself to pay more attention to the driving. For some odd reason listening to a lecture isn't the same, I can listen to a person talking and pay attention just fine. I don't have an explanation for this!


Dawn said...

I love audio books. Though we read out loud a lot my daughter has also listened to the Hobbit, The Illiad and Odyssey and others on audio book. Her interest in listening generally outstrips my physical ability to sit and read (I'm good for a few chapters before the voice gets rough) so audio books are a great solution. She will sometimes hole up in her room for a day to listen to something she enjoys.

As you mentioned, they are generally books above her reading ability.

Myself, I really like lectures. But I'll sit at the computer and listen while playing solitaire. If I do it while doing housework or something then I start missing things as you mentioned.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I think you are right about this.
Another benefit of listening to reading is that kids hear reading being done with expression--and that carries over to how they "hear" a story when they are reading silently. It also helps them become better at reading aloud themselves.

In special education technique classes, teachers are encouraged to read aloud to kids as much as possible in order to enrich vocabulary and increase expressive language. If possible, the idea is that the kids have the printed book in front of them and follow along as the book is read to them. In this way, they make a connection between the expressive language being used in the reading aloud and the printed language on the page. This is useful for all kinds of reading problems.

I have done both reading aloud to N. without the printed page in front of him (fun books) and reading aloud books that are a little above his 90% reading level with him following along in other book (usually books for "school"). We have enjoyed both and I have seen increases in vocabulary and expressive language sophistication in him.

Good piece! I enjoyed it!

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent said...

What a great discussion of audio books.

I agree and have read as well, (TWTM) that children can listen to audio books or be read books well over their head. Your discussion of that was great! MY DS too listens to audio books - everything form the original Jungle Book to Jim Weiss CDs.

And, I TOO have a hard time concentrating on audio books - I'd rather read....but then, I don't have to sound out words to read and skip a lot of words while still getting the meaning…so perhaps that's why my mind wanders while listening to audio books.

I did notice this summer, when we were on a Shakespeare in The park roll, that both my DS and I really enjoyed the plays but, when i went to read our favorite from the summer, a Comedy of Errors, I found it slow going....why? Because I had to stop and think about the meaning of the words, sound out a few and work on comprehension of old English sentences. Perhaps similar to what a child experiences.....

Shawna said...

Funny I found this post as I just had a conversation with my own 7 year old about this topic.

I will share my thoughts on this topic and on your observations before I read any of the comments...and for the record, I have recently begun listening to audio discs myself. Love them!!!

When my son asked to grab some audio discs for himself at the library I told him not yet. I wanted him to be a better skilled reader before listening to audio discs for his reading pleasure.

Why you may ask?

My son reads about 3-4 levels above his grade level: the educational psychologist asseses 3-4 levels above, I feel that is a bit inflated--he may read the words/vocabulary, but I question comprehension and all the subtlies that come with written language. I feel that those reading skills need to be strong before a child is permitted to take an easier way round. Yes, I feel the audio and visual are easier means to a story than is the written/read method, in which the mind must convert the symbols into words and then into a visual and then into meaning.

Having said that, I do feel there is great value in a child being read to and we have our shared reading aloud each night. They learn tone, pace, flow...just to mention a few things. They are exposed to a richer vocabulary as you so rightly point out...and they learn to be still and listen, something I feel is truly missing in our busy, hurried lives these days.

And yet I have considered implementing the audio story as something to be listened to as my child lies down to go to sleep. As so many of the audio books are so well read and presented and would give him much to think about as he drifts off to sleep...but these would be in addition to his daily reading as this is where he is exposed to grammar and spelling and sentence structure and syntax.

As for your observations and talks with your son about moving around while listening--I snickered as it is so typical boy. They do need to be physically moving, it is biologically soothing to them...and I can picture it as I have three boys of my own :-)

And I am very much with you that when I listen to audio books I need to concentrate or I get lost. I CANNOT move around LOL That is our girlness! But I listen while driving, it is the only place I can listen with a home filled with 9 people, a dog, a cat, and 10 hens!

christinemm said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I find them very interesting.

Shawna regarding your comments I wanted to reiterate something in case it was not clear, I apologize. My kids listening to audio books does not take the place of their own independent reading for reading practice. I am adamant about having my kids read to practice the skill of reading itself. Compared to the public schools I am much more structured in guiding my children (requiring them, I should say) to keep moving along and to read harder and harder works in order to progress in independent reading ability.

In their spare time they listen to audio books, if they want to, they are never required.

In their spare time also they read whatever they want including catalogs, such as LEGO catalogs, magazines for kids, nonfiction topics if they want to know something about that topic, comics and manga.

Something I didn't say in THIS blog post that I want to repeat now I'll say for anyone reading and questioning if my kids actually are comprehending what they hear with an audio book or a read-aloud by me. I use oral narration or discussion to make sure they are listening. I used to be suspicious if they were 'really' listening back when we transitioned from lap read-aloud's to me letting them move and play with LEGOs, building things and stuff like that. I found yes, they were really, actually, paying attention.

Oddly it is my younger son who does not want to do much lap sitting/cuddling with read-aloud's. This goes with other things in his personality. My older son will be happy to cuddle up next to me for a read aloud any time of the day or night, I need only make the offer!

My voice also gives out by about 90 minutes of reading aloud, after 60 it starts to get 'not fun'. The audiobooks help as my kids get more literature by audio format then if I only did read-aloud's.

When we are home during the day I keep it silent here. The house is quiet and peaceful with just our voices talking. So they usually play without exterior sounds (TV, radio, other music). So when they play with toys while they listen to an audio book it is like an 'extra' bonus thing they are getting. And that is all good, I think.

I don't have a great selection of audio books at my local library so I actually travel 30 minutes to a town with a huge library budget and lots of fundraising that allows for a wonderful children's section. They have rows and rows of audio books for children, it is absolutely fantastic!

We also listen to audio books in the car, especially when driving 500 miles to visit my grandmother in Maine. We don't have a TV in the car.

Shawna said...

Oh, I wasn't thinking otherwise Christine! LOL I was just pointing out my very mixed feelings on the topic :-) And I know that you do the read alouds--in fact, I have often wondered how on Earth you do them for so long LOL I can't read that long out loud and my son won't sit or play that long in one place. Kudos to you!

And no TV in our car either--I refuse :-)