Podcasts in the Classroom – How to Encourage Students to Read More

For years, we’ve known that listening to audiobooks can be a great alternate learning method for students who struggle with reading, whether they have been diagnosed with dyslexia or not. Recently, The Atlantic posted an article by writer and English teacher Michael Godsey on The Value of Using Podcasts in Class that explores this topic more fully. Godsey looks at how using audiobooks or podcasts in the classroom can  help inspire a love of literature in students who, because of their reading level, often find reading to be an arduous and stressful task.

Research has shown that many students actually learn most effectively when listening to an audiobook or podcast while reading along with a transcript. Furthermore, Godsey noted that his students found podcasts more engaging than books because podcasts usually have a variety of speakers who speak directly to the listener, making the material seem more immediate.

I asked each of my own students to write down what they’d honestly like to do for the rest of the semester: read a good book together, listen to another podcast, or listen to a podcast with the words on the screen. Sixty-two voted for the latter, while just two voted for podcasts alone, and one for reading alone.

The reasons were as varied as they were compelling. Many of them said that reading along with the audio helped with their focus and kept them from “spacing out” while listening. Others, paradoxically, wrote that they were able to multi-task—they could take notes or write on their worksheets and could keep up with the story even with their eyes off the screen. Some explicitly recognized that they could look back and re-read something they didn’t understand when they first heard it; others said they read slightly ahead and then could write down a quote while they listened to it. A student with eyesight problems said he appreciates the ability to take reading breaks without stopping his enjoyment of the story. A few students learning English as a second language wrote that they like how they can read the words and—as one student put it—promptly “hear how they’re supposed to sound.”

Godsey points out that the benefits of listening and reading at the same time are not confined to audiobooks and podcasts:

A similar situation in India was observed on a much larger scale when—starting in 1999—certain networks started supplementing some of their television shows with “Same Language Subtitling” (SLS), and the country’s literacy rates soared. The Boston Globe reported on the phenomenon in 2010, claiming that “in the last nine years, functional literacy in areas with SLS access has more than doubled. And the subtitles have acted as a catalyst to quadruple the rate at which completely illiterate adults become proficient readers.”

Drawing conclusions that sounded very similar to my own students’ reflections, the SLS study found that “one’s ability to anticipate the lyrics,” combined with immediate validation through the audio, cultivated “a steady stream of successful reading events”—presumably scenarios in which students read with accuracy and enjoyment. In this way, the SLS contributed to “a nonthreatening reading environment in which to embark upon, confirm, practice, and enjoy one’s developing reading skills.”

Listening while reading helps students experience several successful and engaging reading events in a row, which increases confidence and makes reading a positive experience that students want to repeat.

Have any of you had experience using podcasts or audiobooks in your classrooms? What works and what doesn’t? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager