On the eve of Halloween–the eve of All Hallow’s Eve, I guess–Audible released an author curated “sinister collection of eerie moments.” This is a way to get into the spirit without the gore, with some intellectual gain. This genre–curated audio collections–has much potential beyond this one day and this one channel. Most classrooms and many children have all the tools they need to create and share curated collections. Really these amount to way to record audio digitally (phone, tablet, computer) and a free, web-based tool to edit and host. This scalable “audiobook” project is a great way to get kids excited about literature while giving them ways to improve their reading fluency and track their progress on their own terms.

This scalable “audiobook” project is a great way to get kids excited about literature while giving them ways to improve their reading fluency and track their progress on their own terms.

My students have completed two different projects within this framework. The first was a class-sourced audiobook of Carlos Fuentes’ story “Chac Mool.” (Incidentally, if you are looking for a spooky, seasonal selection, give this story a listen.) I divided the story into roughly page-long sections and students rehearsed and then recorded their section. They recorded using phones, computers or department iPads. I then pulled these together using Audacity. The result was an audiolibro that they could be proud of. I definitely was! Additionally, we could both share this with parents as proof of progress in reading fluency and pronunciation. We could also pass the audio along to future students. The second project was a series of interviews with experts/authors on Frida Kahlo’s work. (These were “resident experts” in our class.) Inspired by the the MFA’s acquisition of Kahlo’s work “Dos mujeres,” students wrote and recorded interviews exploring the work and their understanding of the themes and techniques.

With both of these Spanish 4 classes, there was immediate buy-in because the topics were engaging, the collaboration was 100% necessary and the final project was something they could share. The process worked equally well for verbal and auditory learners, techies, and those that benefit from a slightly different approach to reading. Students had full control of the process end-to-end. I committed to editing drafts as they needed me to, correcting pronunciation and supporting the technical side.

The process worked equally well for verbal and auditory learners, techies, and those that benefit from a slightly different approach to reading. Students had full control of the process end-to-end.

How could this work in other disciplines and at other grade levels? Here are seven not-at-all-spooky ways that you could begin to work with “audiobooks” in your class starting today.

  1. Have younger readers or less-experienced modern language learners record themselves reading a favorite selection. Curate these efforts to track progress in reading fluency and pronunciation. Added bonus: teachers can use these to inform progress reports and meetings with parents.
  2. Students could track their path through texts of increasing difficulty over the course of a marking period, semester or year. There can be great pride in progress/performance if a student could say both “I moved from level 1 to level 3!” and “Here is an audio archive of me doing it!”
  3. As we did with “Chac Mool,” a class could choose a longer work, with each student contributing his or her own piece to a larger project. Different voices, styles and performances can bring the text to life while bringing the class together around a shared goal.
  4. As we did with the Frida Kahlo project, students could play the author and/or expert and write a podcast. Think Charlie Rose for the next generation of learners and thought leaders.
  5. Older students could curate a thematic collection. These could come from works in a single genre/movement or across them. Collections could also be dynamic playlists of passages that just sound amazing.
  6. Older students could curate a collection of themes or evolution within the works of a single author. In the case of #5 and #6 students would select, record and curate these collections.
  7. Teachers, admins or even parents could curate and share their own collections, again by genre, topic, theme, etc. What are we reading? What are we excited about? What are we learning about? Sharing the audio as well as reflecting on the design decisions can bring these groups one step closer.

What to do with these projects once they are completed? They could be part of a reading portfolio shared between the student and teacher. These could inform conversations on progress, attitudes towards reading and specific texts and, when necessary, interventions. These “audiobooks” could be shared “locally” using links Google Drive or Dropbox or an LMS like Schoology, CanvasMoodle or more. If they can be shared more widely, platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud and iTunes U are great choices. In the latter, I have found that the Voice Memos > Google Drive > Audacity/Garageband > SoundCloud/Spotify workflow works best. Incidentally, I have found that the “Word” section in “Genres & Moods” in Spotify is a great place for content and inspiration.

Happy Halloween, happy reading and happy listening!

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