A listening pleasure
By Alisa Weeks
Students are passionate about audiobooks at St. Francis of Assisi School in West Des Moines, and they love to share this joy with others. According to their teacher librarian Kerry LeWarne, they often come to her and say, “Mrs. LeWarne, listen to this!” She has found that audiobooks benefit all students at her K-8 school.
Although most of the 700 students at St. Francis love reading, LeWarne has found that audiobooks provide a unique experience that helps readers at all levels. Eager readers use audiobooks to immerse themselves in favorite story tellers or to attempt more challenging texts. Reluctant readers are saying, “I finally get it!” after listening to a recording and following along with a printed copy. “The combination of sound and sight allows non-readers to understand new vocabulary, sounds, and sentence structure,” LeWarne explained. Some students enjoy listening only, she noted, especially while in the car or working out.
LeWarne has organized her library to encourage audiobook use. Playaways, devices loaded with a single chapter book, are prominently displayed and have become the most popular way to listen to books. LeWarne receives about twenty Playaways each week through the Heartland Area Education Agency (AEA) lending program, and she has also purchased Playaways using grant and donation funds. To promote use of the AEA’s online audiobook services, such as MackinVia and Tales2Go, LeWarne makes Chromebooks and iPads available and prints the AEA account information on bookmarks. The students love all genres of audiobooks but especially enjoy fantasy and realistic fiction.
Her K-2 students enjoy listening to books and stories through Bookflix, TrueFlix and PebbleGo. “At times, the voices are digitized, but the younger students don't seem to mind,” LeWarne noted. “These formats are free [through the AEA], easy to use and dramatically assist with phonics and sentence structure development.”
LeWarne became a teacher librarian after nearly two decades of teaching secondary language arts. She quickly realized that her passions--teaching, reading, collaboration and organization--were key parts of her new role.
When she began the School Library Studies M.A. program at UNI, she loved audiobooks but did not know how to access them outside of Amazon’s paid audiobook service, Audible.com. As part of her master’s research, she discovered many options that are free to schools and created an online guide to using audiobooks in Iowa. LeWarne graduated with a master’s degree in 2016 and is now reaping the rewards of her research: “ALL my kids are reading!”
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