Many teachers report assigning independent reading in elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms, and having students raise their hands upon finishing their reading and shout “I’m done” enthusiastically. Some of these same students often give vague and unclear answers when asked about what they have read. In some cases, they are completely lost. They are simply reading the words on the page and not interacting with the text.

Reading is the construction of meaning — it is much more than the sum of a group of words. “Teaching children which thinking strategies are used by proficient readers and helping them use those strategies independently creates the core of teaching reading” (Keene & Zimmerman, 1997). If there is no meaning constructed in the minds of the readers, then they are not truly reading at all. Many students can read the words on the page, but are making no connections to the text. They aren’t visualizing what they are reading, they aren’t making personal connections to the text, they aren’t making predictions and updating those predictions throughout their reading, and they aren’t asking questions and attempting to answer those questions as they read.

Dr. Frank Serafini, author of Audiobooks & Literacy states that hearing the sounds of spoken language while pairing those sounds with the printed word helps struggling readers to better focus on the meaning of words, rather than simply trying to recognize words in the first place. “As developing readers listen to audiobooks and follow along with a printed version of the story, they learn to match the sounds of oral language to their written counterparts. This matching of sounds to symbols is the basis for reading instruction… [and supports] struggling readers by helping them focus on meaning rather than the decoding of text.”

The importance of this connection between reading and listening is further shown by a National Research Council report which demonstrates that hearing the spoken word in relation to printed text is integral to students who are struggling with reading. Not only do these students have trouble connecting symbols to sounds, but they must also transfer comprehension skills of spoken language to the written text.

By allowing students to listen while reading along with the text, they get the opportunity to read literature that is exciting and relevant to them, while being given the benefit of hearing and seeing the words at the same time. The relationship between the words on the page and the sounds in their ears helps them make connections to the text. This not only allows them to recognize words which would otherwise be stumbling blocks, but also to utilize their listening skills in conjunction with the text, teaching them how to transfer those skills to the printed word.

Listening while reading:

  1. helps build fluency skills including proper phrasing and expression
  2. helps students improve sight word recognition
  3. helps build comprehension
  4. allow students to hear the tone and pace of a skillful reader
  5. is a flexible strategy that can be used across content areas
  6. allows striving readers access to content they can comprehend independently