Parents often ask if it is OK for their children to be reading audiobooks instead of reading the print version of a novel or storybook.
As a reading educator, I often recommend using the audio version of a grade appropriate, or currently popular novel. I believe that the message is just important as the medium. For readers who struggle with text, having access to an audiobook can be an equalizing thing. Many of the students I work with have serious challenges that make reading conventional text difficult. Many have dyslexia; others have visual concerns, or reading fatigue or attention issues that make extended reading difficult, if not impossible. Because I enjoy listening to audiobooks almost as much as holding a book and fingering the pages, I frequently suggest that a student try the audio version of a book. I enjoy how an audio version gives me the feeling that someone is reading to me – as when I was small. Hearing the story read to me provides the opportunity to visualize the setting and characters. It helps me to feel the story; something I am constantly encouraging my students to try to do. Many audiobooks are read by the author and may contain vignettes and background information about the book shared by the writer.
Sometimes, however, my suggestions that a student try an audiobook are met with objections such as, “But that isn’t real reading. Kids have to learn to read the words.” Parents often ask me if an audiobook might ruin their child’s reading, or discouraging them from reading books. Teachers may refuse to allow students to use the audio version of an assigned text claiming that it is “cheating” and unfair to other students who have struggled through the text.
This, I suppose, begs the question, can listening to an audiobook really count as a reading experience?
I know what my feelings are about this question. I invite others to share their thoughts. What is reading, really?