Using audiobooks for Universal Design for Learning

Expanding student access to reading

audiobooks for Universal Design for LearningAs a school librarian, I needed to think how I could adopt Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  in my own teaching and library space, but I also needed to think about how I could support my teachers as they implemented it in their classrooms.  With UDL, teachers can allow students to have choice and flexibility to interact with the content.

And one option that I could help provide was audiobooks.

The past couple of years, my district has been in the process of implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in our classrooms. The neuroscience behind it shows that each student learns differently, bringing their own strengths and experiences to each learning opportunity. Therefore teachers need to create multiple ways for students to engage, represent, and express the content.

audiobooks for Universal Design for Learning

The scientists who developed UDL initially looked at how schools can support students who are traditionally marginalized, students who have disabilities, or for whom English is their second language. What they discovered was that the strategies that help these populations also helped all students learn.

Audible.com on iPods

I decided to focus on the 5th and 6th grade classrooms and, in particular, the books that they read as a whole class. And with the help of a grant, I purchased iPods and a subscription to Audible.com.

I asked the teachers what books they planned on using for their instruction and asked students what books they were interested in reading. With this information, I made sure to have the right books for those classrooms. Students would have the choice to listen to the book that their class was reading and they could choose to listen to a book of their choice during their “Read to Self” (silent sustained reading) time.

The results of this year were positive.

audiobooks for Universal Design for Learning

Thirty percent of the students in 5th and 6th grade chose to listen to audiobooks during the school year. They reported that they were able to be successful in the class assignment because they used the audiobook and that they enjoyed the experience.

About half of the students were students with a reading disability.

Others chose to use the audiobooks for other varied reasons: the performance was engaging, it helped with time management, and it helped with comprehension.

The audiobooks helped my own library program as well

Due to the integration of audiobooks into their reading choices, every student in the 5th and 6th grade was able to vote for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award. I have never had all students participate previously!

Students with various abilities and levels of interests in reading not only were reading the books on the award list, but were discussing them and sharing recommendations with each other. My library environment changed; it became a more inclusive, diverse, & vibrant reading community.

I interviewed the classroom teachers, the special educator, and a handful of our students who used the audiobooks. Listen to hear their thoughts and experiences here:

The benefits of having audiobooks available to students are numerous.

Audiobooks are engaging storytelling and can really suck the reader into the world the author creates. This fits the engagement piece of UDL and can really help reluctant readers discover stories that they love.

My students often listened while reading along with the book, helping them with word recognition, fluency, and comprehension.

Audiobooks also helped students flex their listening muscles, gaining a better capacity in their auditory intelligence.

The part about UDL  I like the best is that the use of audiobooks increases the availability of books to students. This removes the stigma from students with reading disabilities who might have been previously singled out.

Audiobooks helped students be successful in their classroom but they also helped students see that reading is fun.

With this year’s success under my belt, I look forward to expanding my audiobook program to the larger school community. (Be on the lookout 3rd and 4th graders! Audiobooks are coming to a library near you!)

I’ll be looking to find other ways the library can support all students in their journey at our school. We are a small school, but with the right learning environment, we can have a huge impact on our students.

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Emily Wood

Emily Wood is the School Librarian at Moretown Elementary School. She is an avid reader, podcast addict, daydreamer, movie nut, dog walker extraordinaire, and wanna be science nerd.

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