Use Recorded Texts to Close Gaps in Comprehension

As special educators, we know that “Regular Ole'” grade-level texts do not always work in service of our students.

Our students simmer with frustration at the demands of these “Regular Ole” texts:

Lengthy paragraphs. Unfamiliar words (by the dozen). Seemingly endless pages.

Many times, our students are just trying to get by. Trying to do their best. But it’s never good enough for the demands of the curriculum, is it?

So, we start to get frustrated, too. We are told that we have to teach these texts. We feel like we have to teach these texts. How can the students miss out on what their peers are learning?

But if we give students too many of these “Regular Ole” texts - without any audio support - we'll continue to leave many of them behind.

That’s heartbreaking.

How would you like to receive text after text…each one more impossible to read after the next?

I’ll tell you a secret. I’m an excellent reader. But I was never a fan of Shakespeare, until my 10th-grade English teacher played us the audio version of Julius Caesar. Then I was so into it. I was so into it.

I was listening, of course. But I was also reading.

Of course, we don’t want to ever neglect the fundamentals of decoding, fluency, and accuracy. We don’t want to provide a steady diet of recorded books, to the exclusion of the “Good Ole” kind of regular books. But a large chunk of our students experience a chasm between their comprehension and decoding, and we need to also support these students’ cognitive development and receptive language growth.

Many of our students are quite able to comprehend ideas when they don't have to struggle with decoding text. We need to stop giving them “baby stuff.” We need to give them the real deal.

This is where recorded texts come into play. (No pun intended. Well, maybe.)

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Recorded texts illuminate the hidden skills of our students. The same student who can’t get past the first page of that intimidating chapter book might be on fire after listening to a recording of it. He might answer your questions about it, analyze it, and even….wait for it…enjoy the text.

As teachers, let’s admit it, we often don’t have a choice about which texts we get to teach. Recorded texts help us to bridge that gap, as we can “play our way” through the mandated content… part of it…or even all of it, at times.

If you’re one of those lucky teachers who gets to select the books that are read in your classroom (at least part of the time), you too can employ the use of recorded texts to:

Expand your genre studies

Students will get a better feel for a genre if they can read multiple “mentor texts”; you can enhance your students’s understanding with a selection of genre choices in your listening center.

Give your students a “reach book”

This can be tremendous in boosting confidence. When a student with reading needs notices that he is reading the same thing as everybody else - and that he actually understands it - he’ll work that much harder on the next book.

Stop the struggle of silent reading time

A half-hour can feel like an eternity for a student who is not able to independently decode grade-level text. Yet, a student might feel embarrassed to only read books on his or her decoding level. Wouldn’t you? Instead, provide these students with listening stations during silent reading time. (Remember that some students might prefer discreet ear buds.)

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As another component of your literacy routine, you’ll need to figure out how to use recorded books.

Just like for “Regular Ole” texts, you’ll need to have a plan in place for all stages of the game:

Before students start their listening sessions, give them the appropriate background knowledge.

Ask anticipatory questions and encourage students to make predictions about their texts. Provide necessary “background knowledge” to fill in any gaps. Use videos and images to set the scene, when possible.

Also, utilize “entry points” to remind students about what they read the previous day. Unlike traditional texts, students can’t “look back” in a recorded text to find evidence. So, it’s doubly important to give them an anticipatory or predictive framework for recorded texts.

As students read at their listening centers, ensure that they are tracking the text. Use reading guides or similar systems, like index cards. For students with dyslexia, focus on yellow reading guides. Yellow has been shown to help students with dyslexia follow along with text.

At times, allow your students to “just listen” without the demand of following along with the text. The “just listening” technique can be used to practice visualization as a comprehension tool. Instruct students to create drawings and doodles as a form of note-taking as they listen to the text. Of course, students can also take text-based notes, especially students in the middle grades and up.

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After your students listen to their recorded text, make sure to include the appropriate wrap-up activities. These “after-reading” activities should create opportunities for discussion and reflection.

Recorded texts offer great opportunities for journaling; students can practice their summarizing or analyzing skills. They also might enjoy a creative outlet for some of their hidden talents.

Try out these activities for something different:

  • Practice reading a selection from the text in the voice of the recorded text narrator.

  • Pretend to act out the scenes as they unfold in the recorded text.

  • Or, even make their own recorded text in the style of the one they just read.

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It's a major challenge to meet both the cognitive and text-based needs of many of our students. Luckily, recorded texts help to bridge those gaps.

And as technology makes these texts easier to acquire and use, your students (and you) deserve to be the ones to benefit.

Note: I highly recommend the use of safe headphones for your students as they listen to recorded texts. Traditional headphones can be risky, as direct exposure to loud sounds creates a risk for young (and older) ears.

Headphones such as these are volume-limited. Ask parents to purchase these headphones, or those similar, and maintain a pair in a labeled box to ensure each student’s hygiene.