New Research Shows Audiobooks Have Powerful Impact on Literacy Development

AudiobookerLooking for scholarly research on the power of audiobooks in literacy development? A study released today has great information for parents looking for ways to keep reading skills sharp over the summer months, librarians seeking increased funding for their audiobook collections, educators who need strong statistics for audiobook grants, or teachers planning next year’s reading program. Click here to find details of the study, along with a survey of prior audiobook research and a useful bibliography.

This 28-page report on the impact of audiobooks on vocabulary development and reading achievement in second- and third-grade students looks at the use of Tales2go’s streaming audio service in the San Francisco Bay Area school district’s after-school program, which is economically and ethnically diverse with approximately 42% of elementary students receiving free or reduced-price lunch and 15% identified as English Language Learners. The study was performed by Kylie Flynn, Ph.D., Bryan Matlen, Ph.D., Sara Atienza, M.S., and Steven Schneider, Ph.D. for WestEd, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and development service.

The impact of purely listening to books is striking.

For me, the most important part of the study is that the researchers focused on just listening, with no follow-along-in-the-book or other reading intervention added. The impact of purely listening to books is striking. Two notable findings are that students using Tales2go attained 58% of the annual expected gain in reading achievement in just 10 weeks, putting them three months ahead of control students. Plus, the study group outperformed the control group across all measures, by three times in reading comprehension, nearly seven times in second-grade vocabulary, and nearly four times in reading motivation. These increases came after students listened for twenty minutes three times per week in the afternoon program at school, and an additional two twenty-minute sessions at home.

Girl with headphones

These results would be comparable with including any audiobooks in a young person’s literacy development. I would guess that many parents spend twenty minutes in the car with their kids five days a week in the summer—what if those minutes were spent listening as a family? Sounds like audiobooks are a perfect way to combat the “summer slide” and prevent the loss of hard-earned classroom reading skills by just listening. Check out the titles I suggest in “Summertime Family Listening” for great audios. Summer’s here, and the time is right for listening in our seats—car seats, that is!

About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

13 Comments on "New Research Shows Audiobooks Have Powerful Impact on Literacy Development"

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  1.' Evil Twin says:

    Thank you for all your suggestions on my continued literacy development. It is an encouragement for my grand children’s literacy development as well. Well done!

  2. When 1 in 5 of our children are Dyslexic, albeit undiagnosed elephants in the room…..these online reading options are what can keep a child interested and engaged while they (hopefully) learn through Ortin Gillingham etc .

    Question: I know with Learning Ally (another wonderful resource for online books), if you have a diagnosis of dyslexia, then the child does not have to pay…rather the school does, at least thats how it was done with my son. He has sensory issues and struggled to find the right voice.

  3. Audio books aren’t only useful for children for short journeys, but can be a life-saver for long car journeys too. Get rid of the “are we nearly there yet?” chant and replace it with, “can I stay in the car until the end of this chapter?” We’ve always used audio books in the car with our children, and they’ve made long treks go with ease. Now they’re older we have progressed from the Famous Five to books written for adults. Great!

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