Audiobooks spark love of reading for students with dyslexia

Imagine a student with severe dyslexia who is several grade levels behind in reading and acts out when it’s her turn to read in class.

Now, imagine her reading the latest tween vampire series all on her own for fun. Quite a transformation, right?

Kari Tapie said she sees this happen again and again when students get access to audiobooks.

“It opens up a wonderful world of literacy to these students who are frustrated readers,” said Tapie who coordinates the Assistive Technology Lending Library program at Los Angeles Unified School District.

When educators think about which students might be good candidates for audiobooks, however, they sometimes overlook students with dyslexia, said Brad Turner, vice president of global literacy for Benetech, which operates Bookshare, an online accessible library funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Part of the reason, Turner said, is a misunderstanding about who can qualify for access to free audiobooks and eBooks.

“Any student with a print disability, meaning a visual impairment, mobility impairment that significantly interferes with reading, or a learning disability that significantly interferes with the ability to read, qualifies for Bookshare,” Turner said.

It’s not only for students who are blind or visually impaired. Also, students don’t need an individualized education program or 504 plan, he said.

“There are probably 5 percent of students in a district who could qualify [for Bookshare], but penetration across the country is much lower than that,” he said.

Students with dyslexia are often the ones that get left behind, he said.

Learn more about the benefits of audiobooks and how they can improve outcomes for students with print disabilities:

· Basic access: When a student can’t see the words on a page or turn the pages of a book, audiobooks provide a way to get access to that content, said Tapie. For a student with LDs who might take significantly longer than her peers to read a book, audiobooks are a way for her to stay on pace with her classmates, she added. Audiobooks also provide a social benefit because they give students access to the books their peers are reading, Tapie said.

“So many times with struggling readers, your choice is how many words there are on a page, but not with audio,” she said.

· Comprehension, fluency: Audiobooks are a complement for literacy instruction, said Don Macintosh, who manages the Intensive Diagnostic Educational Centers, a literacy program for special education students at LAUSD. For instance, students in IDEC are learning how to read but in the meantime use Bookshare, Learning Ally, and Tales2Go for independent reading and access to digital copies of their textbooks, he said.

“We often like to pair audiobooks with the book,” he said. “They’re holding the book and getting a sense of what reading is.”

Audiobooks with text may also help students associate meaning with words, which can help improve reading fluency, Turner said.

“I call it ‘karaoke-style’ reading where each word is highlighted as it’s said aloud,” he said.

· Practice for assessment accommodation: Listening to audiobooks can be practice for using text-to-speech on assessments, Turner said. It takes some time before students get comfortable with a computerized voice reading to them, he said.

“With practice, they’re not thinking about that voice, or ‘How do I operate this?’ They can sit down, hear it, and really focus on that exam,” he said.

Tapie said she agreed.

“For struggling readers who need that assessment accommodation, the more practice they have with that instructionally, the better,” she said.

Two points to remember:

Involve parents

Talk to parents about using audiobooks as a primer so the student can participate in class discussions about the book, Tapie said.

“I used to encourage parents to get books in advance digitally,” she said. “Back then, it was on CDs.”

If a student qualifies for Bookshare, he can have an individual account that he can access outside school in addition to the district’s organizational account, Turner said.

“When students have individual accounts, they also read more because their parents are involved,” he said.

Provide choices

Audiobooks and text-to-speech are available in a variety of formats: male or female voice, synthetic or human voice, accented voice, audio only, audio with text, audio with text highlighted, audio speed increased, etc.

“You always want to look at the individual learner and ask, what does this student need to make reading the most enjoyable for him?” Tapie said.

For instance, a student may enjoy listening to the book without looking at the words, Tapie said.

“Sometimes just having a pure audiobook without the challenge of decoding and following along the words can be very satisfying for a frustrated reader,” she said.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

Copyright 2017© LRP Publications, Special Ed Connection®