Every summer teachers fear “summer learning loss,” but at no time in history has there been more reason to worry about the prospect of the typical loss on top of what is being called the “COVID slide.”  The concerns around reading are troubling. 

A reading forecast by The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, projects that because of the “COVID slide,” students could begin school in the fall with only 70% of the learning gains in reading from the prior year. 

What strategies can you use in the fall to bring students quickly back to baseline?

The Listening – Reading Link 

First, it’s good to understand the research establishing the link between listening and reading. Much of it is explored in our 2018 webinar with literacy expert Timothy Shanahan. He says that listening comprehension was found to explain unique variation in reading achievement at grades 1, 3, 5, and 7. A person’s ability to understand while listening has been found to explain differences in reading comprehension beyond what is explained by decoding. The correlations are most significant with young children.

But the causation has been more difficult to prove, due to the lack of a valid third party measure of listening. 

Now that’s changed with the new Lexile® Framework for Listening released in January 2020 by Metametrics, the creators of the Lexile® Framework for Reading. Listenwise is the first educational technology resource that includes Lexile Audio Measures. The measures place all of Listenwise’s 2000+ podcasts on a complexity scale based on factors such as speech pacing, vocabulary, and syntax. Metametrics created the Framework for Listening on the same scale as the Framework for Reading so that teachers can ultimately make comparisons that inform instruction. 

How Can Listening Help With 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).  Exposing students to new vocabulary and new subjects through podcasts is thus a great way to boost literacy.

Research indicates that for many students, especially those still learning to read, listening to a passage results in better comprehension than reading the same passage. This makes listening an effective way to expose kids to complex concepts and new vocabulary. This is an especially important fact considering the “COVID slide” facing many students. 

Engagement is key.  That’s why teaching with engaging, high-quality audio stories is a good approach to building literacy skills.  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. 

Just as you would give a reading comprehension quiz to check for understanding, on the Listenwise platform, you can assign an auto-scored multiple-choice listening comprehension quiz. Students can demonstrate they can recognize literal meaning, identify the main idea, make inferences, and understand vocabulary in the context of a story.  These are all important literacy skills that can be developed by listening to engaging podcasts, whether inside or outside the classroom.

Building Literacy in Hybrid/Distance Learning 

The Lexile Audio Measures can be very helpful in selecting the right level listening resources for your students during remote learning. Because you might not be able to be physically in front of your students, seeing how they are responding to listening passages, you can use the grade level recommendations guide provided on Listenwise to select stories.

All of the podcasts on Listenwise have transcripts that highlight the words as they are being authentically spoken, a research-based approach to improving reading. Reading and listening together, as facilitated by these  interactive transcripts, can further increase comprehension and improve skills in both domains. By using the transcripts, you can encourage students at home to read and listen, thereby strengthening their literacy overall.