Jean Curtin, Librarian
Reprinted from the NJLA Newsletter, Summer 2007, with permission from NJLA.
As a high school librarian, I always try to think of ways to stimulate an interest in reading among my students. At the high school level, students are involved in numerous extracurricular activities making reading a low priority. Over the past several years, headphones and MP3 players have become an essential part of our students’ wardrobes.
I have been working successfully with the Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic Organization for many years. This organization provides special listening equipment and free audio of textbooks and novels to persons with vision problems. When information about the ListenNJ audiobook project was advertised, I thought that I could achieve the same success with the general school population and faculty as I experienced with the special education students. Since headphones seem to be permanently attached to my students’ ears, I thought I could get them to listen to a book. I thought this might appeal to our so-called “reluctant” readers - those students who tell me that reading is too hard for them, that they must read a “thin” book or, alas, no book at all. Therefore, I sought my principal’s support to participate in the ListenNJ Project.
Because my principal, Mr. Normile, is both a “techie” and a “gadget” man, he immediately gave me the go-ahead to participate by allocating the $1,500 fee. Initially, some teachers expressed a concern that students would not be actually “reading” a book, but rather having it “read” to them. I explained that this would be one way to expose some students to classics that they would never read or a novel that would be too difficult for them to tackle on their own.
For many years, audiobooks have been used to teach children to read and to increase their comprehension. Reluctant readers who are introduced to the world of books through audiobooks may some day have the confidence to actually read a book on their own. Research has proven that audiobooks can help with word pronunciation, vocabulary expansion, fluency and comprehension. They can be used to introduce a novel or to set the stage for what is to follow. They are indispensable for the blind. Audiobooks can only help to encourage students to read. I felt that the project would be nothing but positive for my school.
So, how have we done so far with the ListenNJ Project? The response has been so positive that we renewed our participation for year two. Several special education teachers have incorporated audiobooks into their curriculum. One teacher checked out CD players to students, along with the books they had chosen to read. This enabled the students to complete their summer reading assignment by reading the words in the book while listening to the audio version.
Another teacher who uses audiobooks in her classroom has told me that students prefer the audiobook narrator over the teacher reading to them and that they enjoy following along with the book. She feels that it allows for everyone to be on an equal reading plane. Additionally, a student recently diagnosed with vision problems, who is on home instruction, is listening to his required reading of a novel.
Last year I sponsored an after-school book club. With advance planning, my students checked out the same audio book, burned them to CDs and participated in an audiobook discussion. The students told me that it was nice to listen to a book for a change and that they enjoyed the experience. During my summer and fall orientation for eighth graders, students went to the ListenNJ website in order to hear excerpts from a few books in order to expose them to the project and stimulate their interest in it. Teachers tell me that they are downloading audio books at home, burning them to CDs and listening to them while driving to and from work. A few have established a “so-called” swap shop where one audiobook is swapped for another. As an added bonus, I have volunteered to be on the ListenNJ selection committee so that I can add books that appeal to teens to the collection. All in all, I can enthusiastically say that reading is still hot at Keansburg High School, both visually and auditorily.
Jean Curtin has worked as a librarian at Keansburg High School for the past twenty-six years. She got hooked on the role that technology can play in libraries many years ago when she spear-headed a successful fund-raiser to purchase a computer and appropriate software to automate her library's book collection. Now, with 36 networked computers in the library and Internet access in school and at home, she looks for ways to expand her students' reading horizons through the use of technology. One way that she does this is through her school's participation in the Listen NJ downloadable audio book project sponsored by the Central New Jersey and Infolink Library Cooperatives.
ListenNJ.com is sponsored by the Central Jersey and Infolink Cooperatives.