Friday, February 19, 2010

Appealing to the Aural: Audiobooks in the English Classroom


In addition to reading texts aloud for and with my students, I also have found that students greatly enjoy hearing audiobook versions of their favorite stories. There are a few books that I teach using audiobooks. I find that, in these select texts, the addition of the audiobook greatly enhances student learning. For example, I've used the following audiobooks in my teaching:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, read by Gary Sinise
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, downloaded free of charge from Librivox
The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian written and read aloud by Sherman Alexie

I decided to use Of Mice and Men after realizing that the only female voice in the entire story was that of "Curly's Wife", who is never given a proper name. This story needed to have a male voice to express its true grit. So, I previewed the Gary Sinise version and fell in love with it. Sinise is an expert reader and does a whole array of voices to meet the needs of each character's personality. It is a genius recording and it helps to pull students into the story. Plus, Sinise plays the role of George in the movie version of this novel. Every time I use this recording, students are mesmerized by Sinise's interpretation of the characters. Because they are so invested in the story, their comprehension of the text is much greater.

Right before I started teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I knew that I could not possibly due any of the characters justice with my uneven and incorrect pronunciation of the Southern dialect used throughout this novel. I did, though, want to get across the absolute beauty and excitement of Twain's writing. I stumbled through this text in front of my bathroom mirror for a few days before breaking down and looking for an online version that I could practice from. What I found was so awesome that I used it in my classroom. I found it free through Librivox, an awesome site with all kinds of free recordings. Students loved this novel--Laughed at all of the right places, feel head over heels for Jim and Huck, and felt all of the craziness of the trips because of this free recording. (I am still attempting to develop a Southern accent. A work in progress for this New England girl!)

A friend gave me a copy of The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian as a gift. I thought about using it in the classroom, but found that I was able to easily pick up Alexie's cadence and use it in my read-alouds. I did use short portions of the recording in class, but felt comfortable reading the text aloud after listening to Alexie's version. In listening to the recorded text, though, I was able to hear the portions of text that Alexie stressed. I learned more about the characters and the plot by listening to his read aloud than I did by simply reading the book. Which, I guess, is my point in using these recordings with students in the first place.

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