Really, Audiobooks do not make you a bad person

I recently ranted about post from an editor at Digital Book World thoroughly dumping on audiobooks.  Seriously? From someone who works in the  digital  publishing industry? Unless, of course, it was a plant to put down another format of book that competes with the ebook industry that publishes in text only – -the one that refuses to come up with a standard way of delivering books that have something besides boring black text, and isn’t doing very well when compared to the booming audiobook business….. (OK – that maybe needs to be a rant for another day.)

I just saw a reference to another post about the value of audiobooks (thanks to Blogging through the Fourth Dimension. She even calls audiobooks “gifts to all learners!”)  It’s even from a scientific perspective! “As far as your brain is concerned, listening to audiobooks isn’t cheating” by Melissa Dahl outlines exactly why reading books doesn’t prove you are  better person, as our society would make us all believe,

If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it.

The “he” referenced above is Daniel Willingham, a Psychology professor who studies and writes about education. His post is awesome – he wrote it because he’s tired of being asked if audiobooks are cheating. He says, “The point is getting to and enjoying the destination. The point is not how you traveled.”Agreed.

He also says that once a person has learned to decode words, reading print is no more work than listening, i.e., it doesn’t make you a better, smarter person.  . The comments at the end of his blog illustrate this view that somehow reading in print makes you a better person than listening to books. It seems there is really very little scientific study about which way of gathering knowledge is “better.”

For a less academic view about audiobooks, see this Reddit thread. (found through Dahl’s article.) I love the snark and, again, the pointed elitism we have about print being a “better” medium than audio.

Mind you, I am not arguing that audio is better than print. It’s like many debates: let’s stop the debating and let people consume knowledge/enjoy a story in whatever manner they prefer. Stop judging and making people feel like cheaters if they, in fact, prefer to listen to a book rather than read it.

Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

Treatise on Audio Books

One of my all time favorite bloggers, Pernille Ripp, wrote about audio books, a pet topic for me: “Why Audio Books in the Classroom?” (Read this, but read all of her blog. It’s wonderful.)

I cannot believe I haven’t written about audio books before. They have been a huge part of my family’s life for the last 10 years, and is what started me on the path to working in education technology.

boxcarIt all started on a car trip. The kids were little (probably 8 & 5 years old) and antsy. We stopped at a bookstore. I spotted a CD of The Boxcar Children. Aha! Perfect for a car trip. The kids were hooked, and our adventure with audio books began.

My daughter has never liked to read – with her eyes. She was not a natural reader, she has never liked to read. It has always been a struggle. However – as Ms Ripp describes her student doing, my daughter INHALED audio books. We couldn’t keep up – it involved many trips to the library and finding affordable books on CD (and yes, even on cassette!) The arrival of the iPod and downloadable audio books was a game changer.

Yet, we still struggled to get school to accept audio books as books. My daughter’s 4th grade teacher flat out told us they didn’t count. Well, I flat out lied about it on those stupid reading logs we were supposed to do. (This teacher wouldn’t let kids read graphic novels either, but that’s another post.)

Thank goodness for the 5th grade teacher who not only accepted, but encouraged the audio books! Turns out her daughter is legally blind and consumes audio books at an amazing rate. At that point, the audio books were written into the 504, and although we have had to keep fighting for acceptance, we had documentation in our court. My daughter now gets all her college books in an audio version and it’s not an issue.

I get why people struggled to accept audio books as legitimate, but it’s time to change. The skills of listening to a text are just as necessary as reading with your eyes. Just as the world is moving quickly to more visual literacy (meaning learning to “read” images, data visualizations, etc.,) we also need to teach audio skills. We get information in so many ways now that we cannot limit it to reading with our eyes.

It is always expected that my daughter has a print book in front of her while she listens. She can’t do that. She needs to have her fingers busy. While listening, she often does a puzzle, knits or plays sudoku. It’s how she listens deeply. We’ve learned that this is how she learns best — not the way school thinks she should learn. I think the visual decoding is really difficult and distracting for her.

Sometimes, my son does listen to a book with the print book in front of him, if he’s doing heavy reading for school. He takes notes, marks the text. It’s how he learns. For him, using both audio and visual works.

One of my recent work projects  was producing a digital curriculum. We fought hard to have all the text narrated by professional actors. And guess what — it is probably the biggest selling point of the digital product. When we did early testing, I had the opportunity to test it with all levels of readers. Even the “high” readers – those reading far above grade level – loved the audio. It isn’t just for “special ed” (I HATE that term) or kids with LDs.

Give them a shot — while I love reading the Harry Potter series, I also love listening to Jim Dale read it to me. And how about celebrity bios? Nothing funnier than listening to Ellen DeGeneris reading you her book, or nothing more enjoyable than listening to Rob Lowe read his. Seriously. Try it.

 

Things about Dyslexia

I was so intrigued by this article, “20 Things Only Parents of Children with Dyslexia will Understand.”

I won’t repeat the article, but a few things of the twenty stand out that make life so very difficult for kids:

  • They feel dumb and stupid
  • They are exhausted by detail
  • They can be disorganized
  • They are not lazy or unmotivated — (but everyone thinks they are!)

But what people forget is the many, many gifts that dyslexics have — it’s just how schools are structured makes these kids struggle so much. Here are the gifts:

  • They view the world holistically
  • They are visual thinkers
  • They see solutions/things that others do not
  • They often have above average intelligence
  • Their sense of hearing is exceptional

The conclusion of the article is key:

Unfortunately, learning has been so intimately tied to reading that they have been at a clear disadvantage. Things are rapidly changing; however, in this wonderful age of technology. We are reaching a point at which we will be able to honor all learning styles, not just those that have traditionally met with success.

Grade Level

Recent Huff Post article by Dan Peters, “Smart Shaming: Sorry but Your Child is Too Bright to Qualify for Help” hit home.

I get the limited amount of money, I really do. I also get that there are kids who need services “more” than others.

The real issue for us wasn’t so much the “services.” We were able to get a 504 with accommodations. We weren’t asking for anything that cost money or took any staff time. The problem was the pedagogy, assessment and expectations.

Most of the struggles came from doing tasks that will not be needed elsewhere: memorizing facts and spitting them back on tests, writing structured 5 paragraph essays and doing detailed math problems. There was little struggle in class discussion, creative projects or similar assignments.

Yet, the cumulative effect of failure or poor performance on the “essential” elements of how schools measure kids had a significant impact. She shut down. Motivation was gone. You can beat someone down for so long. That in itself is a disability and hurdle to overcome, along with everything else.