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Differentiating Through Audiobooks

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Keywords: Audiobooks, Podcasts, Reading, Literacy, English, Novels
Subject(s): Special Needs, English/Language Arts, Service Learning
Grade 8
School: Sheridan Middle School, Sheridan, IN
Planned By: Lisa Sarjeant
Original Author: Lisa Sarjeant, Sheridan
Grade and subject: Language Arts 8
Topic: Creating audiobooks
1. Advanced readers will practice oral reading with appropriate inflection and tone changes.
2. Advanced readers will use basic recording software to create MP3 files.
3. Struggling readers will increase reading comprehension and confidence.
4. All readers will exercise choice in classroom reading methods.

The goal of this lesson is to improve differentiation during reading activities in my classroom. Like every other teacher in the country, I have a range of student reading levels in each of my English classes. My advanced readers often wish to read silently, while my struggling readers prefer or need to be read aloud to (as specified in their IEPS), and my average/on-grade-level readers fall somewhere in between. When we read novels and spend a significant amount of class time reading, I find myself trying to compromise and read aloud one day and offer silent reading the next, with half the class being unhappy either way. To offer students more choice in how they complete assigned readings, here is what I propose:

1. Advanced readers who finish novels ahead of the rest of the class will form small groups to record audiobook versions of the novels. Students will assign roles, practice dialogue and timing, and even add sound effects to their productions. We already have a copy of Apple's Garageband software at school that the students can use to make their recordings.
2. Advanced readers will download their audiobooks onto three class MP3 players.
3. On reading days, struggling readers (or any other readers who prefer it) may choose to plug one of the three class MP3 players into a listening station and listen to the assigned chapters for the day with headphones on.
4. The rest of the class is free to read silently on reading days if they prefer, without the added distraction of a small group reading aloud in the same classroom.

I also consider this a form of service learning for the advanced readers, who are helping to meet the needs of learning disabled or special needs students while improving their own oral reading skills.
At first I thought I could complete this project with students' own MP3 players they bring from home, but I realized that won't work for two reasons. First, I have no good way of monitoring the content of student MP3 players--students could be listening to their favorite songs on their playlists instead of the audiobooks. Second, our technology director will not allow devices from home to be plugged into computers on our network. I need three MP3 players that will never leave my classroom.
Readers/listeners could provide feedback to the "actors" who record the audiobooks, making suggestions for improvement or offering praise for good performances.
Materials: MP3 Players
Other Items: 3 Listening Stations, $79.00 each, total of $237.00