Listening to Learn
By Robert Schroeder
The face of children's literature is changing irrevocably.
The Internet and multimedia technologies have infinitely broadened the quantity content children can read. The skill of identifying quality multimedia reading content, however, has become a growing teaching challenge for educators nationwide. National Louis University's Sunday Cummins, Ph.D., assistant professor in the National College of Education, is collaborating with the American Library Association to advocate for an increase in quality audio recordings of children's literature, particularly non-fiction works.
"I am always advocating for teachers reading aloud informational text," Cummins said."Informational text tends to be harder to read, and with a lot of students not reading at grade level, if you read at or above grade level informational text, it gives them access to content area subjects they may not have access to independently."
Cummins recently attended the American Library Association mid-winter meetings in Dallas serving on the association's notable children's recording committee. The committee reviewed hundreds of submissions of audio recordings, mostly fictional works including children's music, chapter books, and picture books. Cummins says the committee sought to identify recordings that elevated the text beyond the normal reading experience, critically analyzing how texts and audio impacted young audiences and how audio reveals new information to listeners.
Publishers and producers face a creative gap in converting more non-fiction books into audio formats. Features like maps, diagrams, illustrations and photos are challenging to describe audibly, and describing informational text often requires long and vivid image descriptions. Some non-fiction books are accompanied with an audio CD as a multimedia complement to the text.
With new Common Core state standards, Cummins says the emphasis on students understanding increasingly complex texts is high. For struggling readers who cannot read independently at their grade level, audio books or reading aloud represent the only opportunities for these students to access content areas available to students reading at grade level. From a non-fiction standpoint, audible reading can be a key cog in keeping struggling readers on track in reading-heavy subjects like social studies.
"Because teachers tend to read aloud a lot of fiction, [students] tend to pick up fiction for independent reading," Cummins said. "If we read aloud more informational texts, they'll pick up those informational texts, and if they are reading those informational texts independently, they are building background knowledge they can bring to their content area studies."
In Dallas, Cummins met with production managers to discuss opportunities for increasing the conversion of non-fiction books to audio. In her classes at National Louis, Cummins is an outspoken advocate for using audio books and utilizing digital storytelling as a tool to help students grapple with big ideas.
Cummins is one of multiple National Louis faculty working with the American Library Association this year. Toby Rajput, assistant professor in the University Library, and Ruth Quiroa, Ph.D., associate professor in the National College of Education, are both serving on committees this year to identify notable works of literature.