Leveraging eBooks and Audiobooks to Elevate Reading Experiences

Keys to Elevating Readers with eBooks and Audiobooks edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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There is a big push to minimize screen time for kids because it is often equated to mindless, passive, and static engagement. However, flipping the script (or “flipping the screen”), screen time can be engaging, stimulating, and most importantly, educational.

Leveraging the use of eBooks and audiobooks to expand access to reading materials as well as improve literacy skills for students was the focus of the edLeader Panel “Keys to Elevating Readers with eBooks and Audiobooks.”

Reading Time Correlates to Higher Academic Achievement

Intuitively, it is understood that the more time a student spends reading the more likely that student is to achieve academically. What may be surprising is the difference just 15 minutes makes. Research shows that students who spend 15 minutes a day reading experience higher academic achievement than their counterparts.

When that number is doubled 30 minutes a day, the result is 12 million more vocabulary words learned over the course of a student’s academic career and overall higher academic achievement. Furthermore, a study conducted by PISA shows reading has a higher correlation to a student’s academic success than socioeconomic status, gender, family structure, or even time spent on homework.

The Challenge: Making Reading Accessible and Engaging

School districts across the country are working to address the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. Finding solutions to help students attain grade-level reading proficiency is a top priority. However, many educators have found it challenging to make reading engaging for students as well as accessible when they are not in school.

A study from the U.S. Department of Education showed that 50 percent of students with access to more than 100 books at home scored proficient in reading, while less than 15 percent of students with 0-10 books at home scored proficient. Given these statistics, it is imperative for schools to provide access for students outside of the school day.

Gretchen Zaitzeff, District Library Media Specialist for Canyons School District in Utah, says the solution to this is “to meet kids where they are, which is on their phones or other devices.” Most students are spending their time on their devices in passive activity, but Zaitzeff argues that they can be motivated to “change [their] behavior to spend time in an active way, where they are reading and developing academic skills by engaging with new books, new characters, and developing empathetic experiences.” This positive screen time activity leads to engaged learning and a love of learning.

Anytime, Anywhere Access to Unlimited Books and Reading Materials

Because eBooks, audiobooks, and other digital books can be read on almost any device, students can have anytime, anywhere access to a digital library that is also stocked with a virtually unlimited supply of books. Digital access also allows them to move from a device at school, like a Chromebook, to their phone or tablet at home.

Additionally, digital access alleviates logistical and budgetary issues for schools and school districts. For instance, when a wonderfully popular book, like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, is assigned as a class book, students immediately rush to the library to get their own copy. However, most media centers do not have enough copies for every student, and even if they did, it would be virtually impossible to stock that many books due to space limitations.

Having digital access eliminates both these problems and is a less expensive option than purchasing multiple copies. Likewise, the same argument can be made for purchasing a book that may only be needed by one student because of a very specific project or assignment.

Benefits Beyond 24/7 Access: How eBooks and Audiobooks Support Specific Student Groups

Providing anytime, anywhere access is great, but it doesn’t address literacy proficiency goals if students aren’t engaging with the content. With digital books, teachers and media specialists can customize the reading experience for their students to meet their specific learning needs. Zaitzeff and Noel Zickefoose from OverDrive discussed how teachers can use eBooks and audiobooks to support four specific student groups:

  • Emerging Readers: Read-along picture books that are professionally narrated allow students to follow along at their own pace while they benefit from hearing and seeing the words on a page to build foundational reading skills (vocabulary, grammar, decoding, cadence, comprehension, etc.).
  • Struggling Readers: Audiobooks allow them to experience reading in another format. They build vocabulary, learn sentence structure, cadence, and comprehension skills. Digital books personalize the experience with adjustable fonts, including a dyslexic font.
  • Multilingual Readers: Many school districts, have students who speak dozens of languages (or more!). With a digital reading platform like Sora by OverDrive, students not only have access to books in multiple languages, but they can also change the interface and navigation to their native language.
  • Advanced Readers: They can move from book to book at their own pace. They don’t have to wait for a trip to the media center to get a different book and they can even read multiple books at a time. With digital books, they can explore different genres at their own pace, and it provides privacy if they are self-conscious about reading books that may be more advanced than their peers.

Digital Access Enables Insightful Data Collection

When students read a print book, it is difficult for a teacher to know how much time was spent reading and how they engaged with the content while they were reading. Many digital book platforms enable data collection that provides deep insights into a student’s reading engagement.

The data can also help districts measure student success and make decisions. Districts have insights into:

  • Usage to inform purchase decisions
  • Real-time reading activities by students
  • Intervention strategies based on students’ activities
  • Usage trends over time, compared year over year

Engaging the Whole Family

Another benefit of digital reading platforms is that they can be used to engage whole families. In Canyons School District, Zaitzeff says they communicate with their parents to ensure they not only know about the platform but also how to access it and use it with their children. As seen in the image below, they use multiple channels and strategies to reach parents about the opportunities provided on the platform.

Real school examples from Canyons

Canyons School District is also very intentional about letting students and parents know that they are not trying to replace print books or materials. It is not an either/or situation, it is both, as there is great value in reading and using print books and materials. In the end, the goal is to provide as much access as possible to a variety of books at all levels to meet the needs of every student.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Keys to Elevating Readers with eBooks and Audiobooks,” sponsored by OverDrive, Inc.

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Join the Community

Exploring eBooks for K-12 is a professional learning community that provides teaching ideas and discussions about the use of eBooks in schools and helps educators and librarians work together to speed their adoption.

Sora OverDrive Education, a division of OverDrive, offers the largest catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and other content for over 59,000 K-12 schools and millions of students worldwide. The Sora student reading app, named one of TIME’s Best Inventions, provides every student with access to the right books and supports the need for required curriculum titles, class sets and pleasure reading. TeachingBooks.net (acquired in 2021) complements Sora with one of the largest catalogs of supplemental resources that “bring books to life.” Founded in 1986, OverDrive – which also provides digital content to public, academic and corporate libraries – is based in Cleveland, Ohio USA. Discoversora.com

Class Sets The affordable way to meet students' required reading needs.


Blog post by Ginny Kirkland, based on this edLeader Panel.