The past couple of years, my district has been in the process of implementing Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, in our classrooms. The educational framework creates a flexible learning environment that supports all learners. 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. The scientists who developed UDL initially were looking 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. If you’d like more information on UDL, please visit the CAST website.
As a school librarian, I needed to think how I could adopt UDL in my own teaching and library space, but I also needed to think about how I could support my teachers as they too implemented these changes in their classroom. I decided to focus on the 5th and 6th grade classrooms and, in particular, the books that they read as a whole class. With UDL, teachers should allow students to have choice and flexibility to interact with the content. One option that I could help provide was audiobooks. With the help of a grant, I purchased iPods and a subscription to Audible. I asked the teachers what books they planned on using for their instruction and I 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” time.
The results of this year was positive. Thirty percent of the students in 5th and 6th grade chose to listen to audiobooks during the school year. They report 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. The 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 because students were able to listen to their choice of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award books. Due to the integration of audiobooks into their reading choices, every student in the 5th and 6th grade were 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 to be 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 those 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 that I like the best is that the use of tools such as audiobooks are available to all students. This takes the stigma away from students with disabilities who might have been singled out by their use prior. 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 from 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 large impact on our students.