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Listenwise CEO Monica Brady-Myerov recently visited classrooms in California and shares her experiences here.

Griffiths Middle School in Downey, CA.

I had the privilege of visiting one of the many middle schools in California implementing Listenwise across the school. I wanted to share the inventive, inspiring and successful ways I saw teachers at Griffiths Middle School in Downey, CA using Listenwise. 

My first stop was in Ms. Jessica Worthy’s 7th-grade exploratory robotics class. At first, I was surprised to hear that Listenwise was being used in her Automation and Robotics class. While Listenwise has a robust collection of stories about technology’s impact on society, we do not have many lessons aligned with engineering standards. But Ms. Worthy knew she wanted to get her students thinking about the pros and cons of technology. She chose the debate story “Should Drones Be Used to Deliver Packages?” to stir discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of new technology, some of them unforeseen. She wanted students to learn about a real-life example. She played the story twice to ensure access for all students across a range of abilities. For the first listen, she told students to just enjoy the audio story. For the second listen, she asked them to be more intentional with their listening by logging into Listenwise and answering the assigned listening comprehension and discussion questions on the platform.  

After students had worked independently,  she reviewed each question with the class, sparking a discussion with students about each one. When she asked the question, What does the technology expert mean when he says drones are opening up “a third dimension”? one student responded that the third dimension is above ground, and another said it means more futuristic technology. This sparked a discussion about how this new technology will impact jobs. Ms. Worthy praised students’ thinking and said the class was “thinking creatively to solve problems, just like engineers.”  The students were required to submit their written answers for later credit. Watch here!

Mr. Tyson Bohlinger, 8th grade American literature teacher.

In Mr. Tyson Bohlinger’s 8th grade American literature class, students were listening to the Listenwise story, “Middle Passage.” Students used headphones to listen to the 5-minute story about the perspective of the book’s author, a freed black man who unknowingly boards a slave ship. Mr. Bohlinger allowed students to see the transcript while listening and assigned them listening comprehension questions on the online platform. 

Mr. Bohlinger shared some CAASPP interim assessment results on listening that were very impressive. In one of his classes, the percentage of students who scored Above Standard in listening jumped 24% over the last year, with 44% performing Above Standard. He called the results “phenomenal” and told me the only thing he’s doing differently is using Listenwise on a regular basis. He noted that the interim test had just as many questions for listening as it did for reading, so he feels if he does not teach listening, he is leaving a major gap in instruction. 

My last stop was in Ms. Charmetra Chatmon’s 8th-grade class. She likes to use Listenwise as a way to help students practice listening for the SBAC/CAASPP. One of the ways she uses it involves assigning students a topic to work on independently with headphones, including taking the Listenwise quiz. At other times, they listen as a class, take notes, and discuss it together. Often she will print out the transcript and ask students to annotate as they listen because, she says “Listenwise is multifaceted and a great way to teach them about annotating and listening.”

On the day of my visit, the whole class listened to the audio story “New Cosmic Crisp Apple.” The first question she asked her students: How many of you like apples? It was a great introduction to playing a 2 1/2 – minute story with sounds of biting into a juicy crisp apple. She instructed students to write down points they thought were interesting. She did not show the transcript; it was purely a listening activity. The students obviously enjoyed it and talked animatedly about what kinds of apples they like to eat. One student proclaimed “Now I want an apple.” 

On the second listen, she directed students’ attention to understanding what a horticulturalist does from the context of the story. Following the second listen, students opened their computers and took the online multiple-choice listening quiz. They were allowed to use their notes but could not listen to the story again. Because Listenwise quizzes give students and the teacher immediate feedback, Ms. Chapman asked her class what they thought the class average was on the quiz. When she revealed that the class average on the quiz was 58%, she asked them what they could do to improve their scores. “We need more listening practice!” said the students. Watch here!

I’m proud and happy that Listenwise will be there to help Griffiths middle school students practice and improve their listening skills.  

Thank you to Vanessa Bedolla, Vice Principal of Griffiths for setting up the observations and welcoming me so warmly. And thank you to Rani Maline-Bertsch, the Director of Secondary at Downey USD, for joining me at Griffiths for part of the observation.


In 1619, the first enslaved people arrived in what is now the United States of America. The significance of that date in U.S. history has not traditionally been addressed in American classrooms. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has made it her mission to change that through The 1619 Project. 

The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project is the brainchild of Hannah-Jones and “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” 

The magazine offers a collection of essays (downloadable here as a PDF) on a range of relevant topics framed by that aim. Teachers and students may be interested, for example, in an essay about how slavery is taught in American schools, which pairs well with Listenwise’s audio story about American students’ understanding of slavery. Also from the NYT, “What You Should Know About the Year 1619” provides a collection of important facts about slavery that will likely be unfamiliar to most students.  

Listenwise recently featured an audio story about the 1619 Project, which includes an interview with Hannah-Jones by Joshua Johnson of WAMU’s 1A. A recent Listenwise debate story about whether Congress should consider reparations for slavery, another story about the 2019 Harriet Tubman film, and another story about a reenactment of a slave revolt are also highly relevant to the issues raised by the project. 

The multi-episode NYT 1619 podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones offers an in-depth look at the legacy of slavery in America and how it impacts American society today. Episodes focus on the significance of the year 1619 in American history and the impact of slavery on American institutions such as popular music, health care, and banking. This compelling, enlightening, innovative series was named best podcast of 2019 by Time magazine.    

The 1619 Project Curriculum from the Pulitzer Center offers a wide selection of instructional materials to accompany the 1619 Project resources, including a glossary, reading guides for each essay, and lesson plans focused on 1619 Project themes and resources, such as “Exploring the Idea of America” by Hannah-Jones.

Teaching Tolerance published a report indicating significant gaps in U.S. students’ understanding of slavery, summarized in an Atlantic article called “What Kids are Really Learning About Slavery.” As an outcome of their research, Teaching Tolerance developed a Framework for Teaching Slavery for grades K-5 and 6-12, intended to support teachers in addressing “hard history.” This framework offers suggestions for teaching emotionally charged topics in developmentally appropriate ways, which is often of particular interest to elementary teachers. Together with the 1619 Project materials, these resources provide useful guidance to teachers interested in helping students at all levels understand the complex legacy of slavery and how it impacts their lives and those of other Americans today. 

For additional classroom resources to support teaching during Black History Month and all year long, see our updated blog post “Stories of Black History.” 

Please let us know in the comments how you have used these teaching resources or any others related to these themes and topics. 

We are excited to be an inaugural partner with Metametrics to implement the new Lexile Framework for Listening that was released today at the LearnLaunch Across Boundaries Conference in Boston, MA.

We joined MetaMetrics® on stage to unveil the Lexile Framework® for Listening, leveraging the power of the Lexile® scale to develop better listeners and readers. The Lexile Framework for Listening measures both the listening ability level of students and audio complexity of resources so students can be matched to ability-appropriate audio materials. 

Many teachers have asked us “how do I measure my students’ listening comprehension?” and “how do I choose the right stories for my students?”  Over the last few years we began to address this need with the development of our listening comprehension quizzes and the creation of our Language Challenge levels.  But we have always believed that listening instruction would be much more widely embraced with an externally validated measure of listening comprehension that teachers could use the same way they have used Lexile levels for reading.  

“Finding the right level audio for your students is essential. It’s like finding the right shoe or glove that fits,” said Jim Bentley, a 5th grade educator in Elk Grove District in California.  

He added “These new Lexile listening measures will make it easy for me to find the right fit to challenge my students to listen to more complex topics and content in order to stretch their comprehension levels.”

We are so excited to be the first to feature the new Lexile Audio Measures on Listenwise because it will enable teachers to make better choices about the right level of audio stories to challenge their students. It makes Listenwise the leader in listening solutions and will show how listening is a key missing piece of the literacy puzzle.  

This exciting new listening framework is a significant advancement in literacy instruction. Metametric’s third-party validated scale will immediately give teachers the ability to better track students’ listening skills and eventually to be able to compare their listening and reading abilities. We really like this quote from Metametrics’ CPO…

“Research shows that better listeners are better readers. With today’s launch of the Lexile Framework for Listening, our scientific, objective scale will provide teachers, parents and states with a true picture of a student’s literacy by measuring reading and listening together,” said Alistair Van Moere, Ph.D., MetaMetrics’ chief product officer. “It is exciting to have Listenwise, a pioneer in harnessing the power of listening to advance student literacy and learning, as our first partner to link the framework to its audio resources.”

You can read more about the new Lexile Framework for Listening on their press release and download the new whitepaper.

Listenwise will be the first company to implement the framework by displaying Lexile Audio Measures for all of it’s 1500+ podcasts. These measures will help teachers select the right audio for their students, as they can often listen to content at a higher level than they can read. Watch for Lexile Audio Measures to appear in Listewise in the coming weeks. Even better, sign up to be notified as soon as the Lexile Audio Measures are live on Listenwise! 

We know many teachers are enthusiastic to learn more about the new Lexile Framework for Listening. We’ll be making the Lexile Audio Measures available shortly and sharing more details about our plans for the student measures, so stay tuned!!

We are excited to officially launch podcast lessons for elementary students! (Read the press release!) We’ve heard loud and clear the desire for audio in the elementary classroom as students are learning to read. These simpler stories will also help English language learners, as low as WIDA level 2, who use Listenwise to acquire language and access instructional content.

Why use podcasts with elementary students?

Listenwise has proven effectiveness in middle and high school, and now educators can find high-quality nonfiction audio content for lower grades. Podcasts offer engaging resources for teaching and assessing listening and speaking skills, and they can also help teachers and students address reading and writing standards. In addition to supporting literacy, podcasts offer students an appealing alternative medium for learning important curriculum content, especially helpful when teaching in diverse classrooms. 

Jim Bentley, 5th grade teacher in California shared, in our recent webinar, how he uses podcasts to build listening skills in his classroom:

What makes a great podcast for elementary classrooms?

We’ve taken  Listenwise’s success formula and applied it to carefully selected podcasts for our younger students. As always, we have curated stories that will grab students’ attention but use less complex language and vocabulary. In addition to using high-interest content from NPR, we have sourced stories from respected podcasts focused on a younger audience, including But Why, Earth Rangers, Tumble, and Book Club for Kids. The authenticity of these real-world stories has shown to be a big motivator for kids and can bring related curriculum topics to life!

Our short student-friendly podcasts differ from audiobooks because they are originally composed expressly for the purpose of listening and contain real-world interviews, ambient sound, and other elements that capitalize on the power of oral communication.

Check out our beta collection of elementary podcast lessons for grades 2-6. Here are some of our favorites focused on a variety of relevant curriculum topics: 

We are also injecting an extra bit of fun for our younger learners by introducing short “strange news” stories with a focus on understanding vocabulary in context. These 30-second stories with highlighted vocabulary can work well as quick “do now” or “bell ringer” activities. Examples include “Penny Pyramid” and “Dog for Governor.”

We will be continuing to build out our collection for elementary students each week, including some current events, and plan to have a large collection ready by the fall.

What is in the elementary lessons?

Our elementary lessons feature the same elements as the rest of our Listenwise lessons, written at the appropriate level for elementary students. 

  • Listening comprehension and discussion questions
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Interactive transcripts
  • Auto-scored listening comprehension quizzes
  • Teacher’s guide with instructional activities before, during, and after listening and additional vetted materials, such as paired texts
  • Graphic organizers to focus listening
  • And more!

Elementary lessons have been designed for optimal flexibility in classrooms with any computer configuration, from one-computer classrooms to one-to-one classrooms. They can be used with the whole class at once, in a station-rotation model, or with students working independently on their own computers. Materials such as listening organizers are designed to be either printed or used online. Lessons and quizzes can be assigned through Google Classroom, and quiz data can be tracked through a data dashboard. 

To learn how one teacher uses podcast lessons in her elementary classroom, read our December blog post post featuring 4th grade teacher, Gretchen Hummon.

Try the lessons with your students!

Now it’s time to explore the beta collection of elementary lessons and current events!

If you are interested in starting a school site pilot subscription to our beta collection, fill out this form.

Happy Listening!


This article was originally published in Edsurge November 5, 2019.

Now Trending: K-12 Podcasting

I have always believed in the power of audio. For decades as an NPR reporter, I created captivating audio stories. But it’s only been in the past few years that the rest of the world has caught up to my love of a good audio story, told by the people affected, and surrounded by sound effects and music that set the scene and mood. It’s called podcasting. And it’s experiencing a surge of interest, especially in K-12 classrooms.

I have always believed in the power of audio.

As the CEO of Listenwise, a listening skill-building company, and the host of the Student Podcast PODCAST, I am seeing the podcasting landscape in education explode. We are on the forefront of an exciting time when audio can bring the world into the classroom, and students can use audio to share what they know with the world. Thousands of classrooms across grade levels, demographics and locations are podcasting. Over six thousand classes submitted podcast entries to the 2018 NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

This upswell really began around the launch of the popular podcast Serial in 2015. TeachersPayTeachers.com, an online marketplace for lesson plans, reported that their annual downloads of lessons based on podcasts increased 650 percent that year. Teacher Michael Godsey, an early adopter of teaching with podcasts, authored many of those lessons.

I’ve continued to see a rising number of conference sessions on podcasting in the classroom. At this year’s ISTE conference, there were 23 sessions about podcasting held over three days.

This trend makes sense; the human voice is captivating. Hearing directly from someone who experienced an event is meaningful. Audio allows us to create movies in our minds, and this is highly engaging for students. It allows them to connect at a deeper level to the content they are learning.

Creating Podcasts in the Classroom

The process of creating podcasts addresses many important 21st-century skills and competencies, including communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. Podcasting can also address Common Core State Standards, including key speaking and listening skills. Educators have discovered that listening to podcasts can promote deeper learning for students using a modality that has not been traditionally featured in the classroom.

Students are drawn to expressing themselves through podcasting. Not only can they emulate real journalists and famous podcasters, they can design their own learning experiences by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions. Recording and sharing what they learn validates their knowledge and empowers them.

Listening to Mentor Podcasts

Listening skills are increasingly important to success in college and careers.

To set rigorous expectations before beginning your classroom podcasting projects, I recommend having your students listen to high-quality mentor audio stories. Listenwise provides free access to a collection of more than 1900 audio stories from NPR curated for classroom use, featuring relevant topics that align with curriculum in English language arts, social studies and science. These examples showcase the sounds of professional podcasts and present models for students to emulate. Public radio podcasts also offer students a new and exciting vehicle for learning important content.

After sharing great audio stories with students, you should select a purpose for the podcasts that aligns with your curriculum. Will students create podcasts that inform, persuade, analyze, reflect, tell a story, or some combination? Once you have defined a task and product, you can select the appropriate production format for your students’ podcasts. Will podcasts be commentary by a single speaker? Will they be interviews or conversations? Will they be investigative reports involving multiple perspectives on an issue or topic?

A variety of project lesson ideas can be found on the Student Podcast PODCAST.

Podcasting and Literacy

Not only can listening to mentor texts support podcast creation, it can build important literacy skills.

Currently, 22 states test listening on their annual English Language Arts assessments. Listening is also assessed on the WIDA ACCESS test, as well as other state English language tests, as it is a key aspect of learning a new language. California includes listening comprehension on the CAASPP and the ELPAC, and many schools we work with note that listening is a skill that still demands a heavy instructional focus in the classroom. Just 43 percent of 8th and 11th graders met listening standards last year across California.

The shift toward teaching and assessing listening makes sense because it is in line with the research on listening and learning—better listeners are better learners. Teaching and learning with podcasts can help to improve listening skills.

Listening skills are increasingly important to success in college and careers. A 2017 survey of 1,000 employers indicated that listening is the 2nd highest skill employers want from new hires. All of this means that more schools and districts are looking for tools to support development of their students’ listening comprehension skills.

We live in a time when digital content—in the form of text, video and audio—is widely available, and podcasting can be done with ubiquitous tools—smartphones and computers. This makes it an exciting time to try something that is new and trending with your students.

Teach with listening. Engage with listening. Create with listening.

Blog Updated January 30, 2020.

We are excited to share that in January 2020, the Lexile Framework® for Listening will be launching and each Listenwise Premium audio story will have a Lexile Audio Measure indicating its challenge level. 

Just like the Lexile Framework for Reading, the Lexile Framework for Listening uses a scientific approach to place both the listener and audio text complexity on the same developmental scale, making it easy to connect students with audio content targeted to their listening comprehension levels.

Soon all of our Listenwise podcast lessons will include Lexile Audio Levels on each story to ensure that students can be connected with passages of appropriate complexity that target their listening comprehension skills.  

To learn more about the research behind the scale and get a sneak peek at the product plans for implementing Lexile listening audio and student measures in Listenwise Premium in 2020, watch this webinar recording:

Teachers will soon be able to further monitor progress towards career and college readiness using a universally accepted measure to predict listening comprehension and performance. The Lexile Listening Framework is underpinned by the same academic research and scientific rigor as the Lexile reading scale.

Knowing the connection between reading & listening comprehension and how they both support literacy, now with valid and reliable measures of both listening comprehension and reading comprehension, further research into the relationship between the two will be possible.  

The new listening measure has significant implications for teaching listening and supporting literacy in the classroom. Please share with your networks and reach out to us if you have questions: info@listenwise.com 

Stay tuned for 2020!

I founded Listenwise to inspire individuals to fulfill their potential through the power of listening. In the last 5 years, podcasting has really exploded but we’ve only begun to see its impact in the classroom. Over that time, we’ve learned so much and there is so much more to do.  

I’ve learned that we need to continue investing in Listenwise to provide a broad solution to help all learners and teachers. We need to add a full range of content to support younger students as well as students who are at earlier stages of their language acquisition. We also have recognized the difficulty of teaching listening comprehension without measures of listening complexity and performance. Now we are on the cusp of bringing Lexile measures for listening to Listenwise. However it is very difficult for us to make these types of investments while keeping Listenwise affordable for a wide range of schools. It is time for us to make some changes to our free product in order to ensure Listenwise can meet everyone’s needs. 

Beginning on March 1, 2020, “current events” will be the primary content in our free version. ELA, Social Studies, and Science podcasts and lessons will no longer be available without a paid Premium subscription. The free product still has a lot to be enthusiastic about… 

  • 1000+ current events with new ones added every school day, 
  • carefully chosen stories about important events in the world, 
  • really engaging content for listening practice, 
  • and our very popular debate Fridays. 

Plus features to make it easy to use in the classroom, such as listening comprehension questions and the ability to share the audio directly with students using Google classroom.

We have tried to give plenty of advance notice to all impacted users so they can plan accordingly. If you’ve been using our free product, please check your email for some special options available to you for access to the full Listenwise collection for the rest of this school year or contact us! 

More details on the content and features that will make up our free and paid products moving forward can be found on our plans chart.

We believe this is the right path forward to build a sustainable future for Listenwise and our community so we can continue developing high-quality lessons and features that support students building listening comprehension skills for years to come. We value our users and look forward to achieving the mission with you. 

Please feel free to send us your feedback about these changes or other comments/concerns at feedback@listenwise.com

Sincerely,

Monica Brady-Myerov

Founder and CEO


The connection between listening and reading makes a clear case for using audio stories to promote literacy, and until now Listenwise has focused on bringing great audio to middle- and high-school classrooms. We have listened to your thoughtful feedback from conference conversations, classroom visits, customer surveys, etc., and we are excited to announce that we are expanding our collection to include high-quality podcast lessons for lower level classes after MLK Day 2020!

In the meantime, you can preview an elementary Listenwise lesson on our platform called “Bird Mystery” and learn how one 4th grade teacher taught it to her students. 

A Classroom Snapshot

Elementary teacher Gretchen Hummon recently taught the Bird Mystery lesson to her 4th grade class in Leominster, MA. She taught the lesson during her literacy block, highlighting connections to her curriculum in both ELA and science. Grechen used the instructional materials provided, sometimes adapting them to meet her specific goals, and incorporated her regular literacy strategies and routines into the lesson.

Before Listening

To activate prior knowledge, Gretchen opened the lesson by asking students “What do you know about birds?” She called on students and then asked them to write their responses on the whiteboard.

Next, she followed up on a point made by one student and asked “What do you know about bird migration?” prompting students to turn and talk with a neighbor. After they had chatted, she invited them to report their responses to the whole class. She then introduced the podcast “Bird Mystery” and asked students to predict what they thought the story might be about, noting that many reading strategies (such as prediction) also apply to listening. She reminded students that the reading strategy of the week was asking and answering questions, then distributed printed t-chart listening organizers and asked students to jot down their questions as they listened. 

During the First Listen

Gretchen then played the audio story for students on her computer. As they listened, students noted their questions on the t-chart, demonstrating their engagement with the story: 

  • Why does the bird have an antenna?
  • Why are birds in trouble?
  • How do they know to go to South America and back?

After the First Listen

After they finished listening to the story, Gretchen asked students to turn and talk about each of the listening comprehension questions in sequence. As students shared responses with the class, Gretchen probed, clarified, and asked for elaboration. She invited students to share their own questions and discussed some of those as well. She also introduced vocabulary words from the story that she had listed on a chart.

Sometimes she read the sentence from the podcast transcript to provide context for a word. Other times she asked students to use the word in a sentence of their own. Over the course of the lesson, Gretchen made a mark on the chart each time a word was used, which was a familiar weekly vocabulary routine in her classroom. 

During the Second Listen

Next, Gretchen asked students to listen to the podcast again. This time, she directed them to listen for vocabulary words as well as for understanding. She projected the interactive transcript on the screen so students could follow along with highlighted text in sync with the audio. 

After the Second Listen

After the class had listened to the podcast a second time, Gretchen asked students to get a Chromebook from the class cart and log into their Google accounts. She had assigned the online quiz accompanying the “Bird Mystery” lesson through Google Classroom. Students logged into their accounts and took the listening comprehension quiz independently. 

Finally, Gretchen asked students to write in their writing notebooks about birds, using vocabulary words if possible, and/or to reflect on the podcast lesson. 

Once all students had finished the quiz, Gretchen projected the questions on the screen and discussed with students which strategies they used and why they chose the answers they did. This offered the opportunity for students to learn from each other and for their teacher to better understand their thinking to inform further instruction. Reviewing students’ completed listening organizers and writing notebook entries also provided insight into students listening comprehension strengths and weaknesses. 

There are many ways to implement each lesson, and this snapshot offers just one example of how Listenwise stories can be integrated into dynamic elementary instruction. If you want to pilot our new beta collection of elementary lessons reach out to adam@listenwise.com. 

Careful listening is a valuable lifelong skill. It helps us learn language, integrate stories from our past, forge human relationships, and succeed in school and the workplace. Starting from a very early age, listening is a key skill in helping children learn to read and become better readers. 

With reading scores either dropping or holding steady on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), we see an important opportunity nationwide to teach listening to support reading comprehension. On the 2019 NAEP Reading Assessment, two out of three students did not meet the standards for reading proficiency in the 4th or 8th grade, and only 35% of 4th graders in the U.S demonstrated reading proficiency. Listening is a missing piece of the literacy puzzle.

Research establishing the link between listening and reading goes back decades. In a 2018 webinar, literacy expert Timothy Shanahan explained that many studies have shown a large and significant relationship between children’s early language development, including listening, and later reading achievement. Given the strong link between listening and reading, it stands to reason that improving listening comprehension skills leads to stronger reading skills. However, there has been a notable lack of research in this area, in part because valid, reliable measures of listening comprehension have been lacking. 

This is soon to change with a new Lexile Framework® for Listening developed by Metametrics, the creators of the Lexile Framework® for Reading. In January 2020, a new research-based measure of audio passage complexity and student listening comprehension will be released. With valid and reliable measures of both listening comprehension and reading comprehension, further research into the relationship between the two and how they impact literacy will be possible. The new listening measure has significant implications for teaching listening and supporting literacy in the classroom. (Look for the measures to be incorporated into the Listenwise product soon!)


What is the connection between listening and reading?

As noted in our previous blog post on the relationship between listening and reading, to understand the link between listening and reading, it helps to start with a model of reading. The “simple view” (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) breaks reading into two basic components: decoding and language comprehension. Researchers agree that most differences in students’ reading performance can be explained by variations in these two factors. Instruction in the early grades typically emphasizes decoding, or sounding out and recognizing words to translate printed text into oral language. But to become good readers, students also need listening comprehension skills, or the ability to understand language and make meaning of those words and the messages they convey.


How can listening help with reading?

As the academic emphasis moves from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” language comprehension assumes a more prominent role. Children who have mastered decoding but lack strong comprehension skills – known as “poor comprehenders” (Hogan, 2014) – tend to fall behind as texts become more conceptually complex, containing more academic vocabulary and requiring more background knowledge to understand. 

Listening can support crucial skills necessary for improving reading. Dozens of studies have documented the importance of two key areas influencing reading level: vocabulary and background knowledge (Shanahan, 2018). Students with larger vocabularies can read and understand more complex texts. And students with background knowledge of a subject perform better on reading tests than those who encounter the subject for the first time, even if they are lower level readers (Recht & Leslie, 1988).  With these factors in mind, education journalist Natalie Wexler makes the case for asking students to take a deep dive into one subject area rather than only practicing decontextualized reading skills. Building knowledge and vocabulary around one subject, bit by bit, through different inputs, motivates students and equips them with the foundation they need to continue improving their reading. 

Image Source: Audio Pub
Source: AudioPub

Students are typically able to listen at two grade levels higher than their reading level, making listening an effective way to expose kids to complex concepts and new vocabulary. Teaching with engaging, high quality audio stories, such as those curated by Listenwise, offers opportunities for students to learn academic language and build background knowledge about a host of important topics. Struggling readers and English learners can especially benefit from listening because it allows them to engage with higher level content and participate more actively in discussions than they otherwise might. Students can focus on developing comprehension strategies such as making inferences and identifying the main idea, which apply to both listening and reading, through the engaging medium of audio, without the cognitive load of decoding.  

Brain research is further illuminating the link between listening and reading. Neuroscientists recently discovered that the same parts of the brain are activated whether a person hears words or reads them on a page. The research has implications for students with dyslexia, among others. But it also highlights the important role listening plays in learning, as a helpmate and equal partner to reading. With the new Lexile® listening measure, teachers will be better able to assess and monitor listening comprehension, and education researchers will be able to further investigate the relationship between listening and reading. 

If you are a California educator, you received your SBAC scores recently. In California, the SBAC test is known as the CAASPP. We compared year-to-year growth for our middle school customers using Listenwise and found positive results! 

79% of our middle school users increased their listening scores from 2017 to 2019, and the Listenwise users outperformed the average state growth across California.

We’d like to give a special shoutout to Grant Middle School in Kings Canyon Unified, Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City Elementary School District, and Eagle Peak Middle School in Ukiah Unified for increasing their listening scores!

When we dug into the listening data ofthe 2018–19 SBAC test results from the ELA subsections, we uncovered some interesting findings. As compared to reading, writing, and research,  listening had the lowest percentage of students performing “above standard,” indicating that there is work to be done to help many students absorb complex ideas through listening. But listening also had the highest percentage of students “near standard” and the lowest overall percentage of students “below standard.” Clearly many students already have basic listening skills in place. Educators can use this foundation to develop more sophisticated listening skills in their students, to help them build reading, writing, speaking, and other literacy competencies.

Assigning students a weekly current event or incorporating a Listenwise lesson into each unit can help students further develop their listening skills, build their vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn about a variety of engaging topics that are relevant to their lives and to the world beyond school.

Explore more resources to support your teaching practice:

Comparing CAASPP and ELPAC Listening Assessments

Listenwise Educators: Practice with Listening Comprehension Skills

Increasing Performance on Listening Assessments