I. General Information
School Name: École John Stubbs Middle School
School District: SD#62 Sooke
Inquiry Team Members: Nicole Wallace: firstname.lastname@example.org, Samantha Ogrodnik: email@example.com, Colleen Maquiling: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jennifer Gibson: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Nicole Wallacefirstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Areas Addressed:
- Language Arts – Literacy
- Language Arts – Reading
- Differentiated instruction
- Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was to explore whether interacting with audiobooks (in French) improve student attitudes towards and engagement in reading, and to create inclusive reading classrooms by providing alternative modes of reading.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: We have noticed fewer school library visits by middle school students and fewer books signed out by middle school students. A number of teachers at our school have asked their students if they thought of themselves as readers, and a minimal number of students self-identified as readers. We have also heard anecdotal comments by teachers about attitudes towards reading during in class silent reading time, and anecdotal comments by students about how they spend their time outside of school and what their activities of choice are. We also noticed that there are students at our school who struggle with reading (decoding) and therefore disengage and become frustrated. We believe these students want to be reading like their peers but often become shut down, resulting in a decrease of their confidence. These students are capable of comprehension at a higher level than they can decode, so it is important to remember to ask yourself: what is the goal of the activity – decoding or a shared reading experience?
Focus: We selected this area because through research we have learned that reading for pleasure is incredibly important for students. In 2002 the OECD published a report called “Reading for Change”, which showed that “student engagement in reading matters more than student socio-economic background in predicting reading proficiency.” We also believe that you need to see yourself as a reader and identify as a reader, otherwise you will not engage in reading. However, many students struggle to engage with reading print books for a variety of reasons. By providing alternative options such as eBooks and audiobooks, we were hoping to help more students see themselves as readers and therefore more willingly engage in reading.
Hunch: Traditionally we have stayed with print books for all students when engaging in reading for pleasure and literacy instruction at school, switching to lower level books, graphic novels and magazines for students with print difficulties. However, we do not believe that this is inclusive or best serves all of our students. When students struggle with a novel, they tend to shut down and stop seeing themselves as readers. As they get older, many students want to read the same books as their peers, rather than a lower level alternative. Outside of school there are many different ways that people read, including audiobooks. Research shows that students are generally able to comprehend a story at two grade levels higher than they are able to decode. By providing multiple access points for reading through differentiated instruction, we are able to allow more students to engage in reading.
New Professional Learning: Through research we explored the areas of reading for pleasure, the use of audiobooks with students, and how audiobooks can be used to support literacy instruction. “Sound Learning”, a subcommittee of the Audio Publishers Association, provided a wealth of knowledge. There have also been a number of articles written by teachers and teacher-librarians in education-related publications, which were very helpful to our learning. Finally, to support our colleagues in opening their minds to the possibility of using audiobooks with students, we presented our learning and our audiobook database at a staff meeting and encouraged each staff member to sign out and try an audiobook. The goal was for them to put themselves in the role of the student and (hopefully) see the benefits for themselves.
Taking Action: First, we signed up for a school Overdrive account to be able to purchase book requests for students and teachers. By using Overdrive we could also have the students access the public library collections, which greatly increased the number of audiobooks available to them. Next we purchased 16 Amazon Fire tablets — these are the most basic tablets that met our needs of being able to access the internet. We also purchased 30 audiobooks for students — 22 in French and 8 in English. We worked with classroom teachers from grades 4-8 to introduce the tablets and how to access and use audiobooks (including how to adjust the speed and flag passages), making them available for students to engage in reading for pleasure and/or use during literature circles. Students who participated completed both a pre and post survey to indicate their feelings and thoughts about reading and if they had tried audiobooks before. The tablets and audiobooks have been used in four different classrooms, all with successful results.
Checking: Students who participated completed both a pre and post survey to indicate their feelings and thoughts about reading and if they had tried audiobooks before. The tablets and audiobooks have been used in four different classrooms, all with successful results. The participating teachers were also asked reflections about how they felt it went in their classrooms and what they observed. Prior to trying audiobooks, most students reported that they had not tried them before because they didn’t have access or didn’t know about them. After using audiobooks, most students reported that listening to audiobooks helped them to better understand the story. All students who participated reported that they prefer audiobooks to “regular” books. Teachers reported seeing students finish books who would never normally finish a book. They noticed that it was most effective to also have a physical book in the student’s hands while they were listening, but it was not unusable without one. Teachers noticed that although there were growing pains, students became more efficient in their use of audiobooks over time. Teachers felt that if we had modeled the use of tablets/audiobooks for literature circle groups of non-readers that there would have been faster and easier start up. Finally, the participating teachers felt that overall the experience was a success with students who identify as non-readers finishing books, and looking forward to participating in weekly literature circle meetings.
We agree that the project was successful as a pilot program. Our goal was to open up the world of reading to students and increase their willingness to engage in reading. We also wanted to improve student attitudes towards literacy in order to help our students become lifelong readers. Over the course of the year this project also grew from primarily being about reading for pleasure and into a question of equity and inclusion. We believe that Hi/Lo books and graphic novels have a place in literacy instruction; however, if the goal is to have students engage in a shared reading experience with their peers, we are able to eliminate barriers by providing access to audiobooks.
We believe that we were able to make a difference for many of our participating students in the areas of the four key questions that matter. Students were able to see that we believe in them and that we were trying to help them develop the skills to become readers, not simply requiring that they read books. We want all of our students to identify as readers now, using any modality, so that they can bring these skills into adulthood with them.
Reflections/Advice: First, I would encourage any schools interested in our work to give it a try in their own schools! We have seen the difference it can make for students who think they will never finish a book only to find out that the audiobook is only 3 hours long! This project made reading seem more manageable and less like a chore for many of our students who identify as non-readers.
Next year we plan to continue promoting alternative modes of reading for the whole school community. We want to normalize that reading doesn’t have to be done with a paper book in your hands. We plan to pursue further grants and other avenues for funding to continue growing our audiobook collection and increase the number of tablets available. We would like to be able to increase our capacity for student participation. Finally, we plan to work with teachers to identify and remove barriers to student interest in listening to French audiobooks. We saw the majority of use with our English audiobooks, and would like to work with students to increase use of the French audiobooks.
Some advice we would offer to other schools is to persevere. Be prepared to invest time to learn and listen to audiobooks yourselves so that you can help students. There will be hiccups and technological glitches, but it is worth it for the students in the end. Also, ensure you have the tablets locked down! We thought we did, but the students found a way to get games on the tablets. Our goal was for it not to become a classroom management issue for teachers. We wanted this to help students, not be something to get them in trouble.