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STEP 2: The Audio Format

This message was posted by joy Zabala on Jul 27, 2009.

Like Large Print, the audio format is one that most of us have considerable experience with. It has often been thought that if someone could just "hear" what was written that all would be well... not necessarily so. When considering the audio format as a LEARNING TOOL, it is important to think about several things.

First, when thinking about the student might use audio, a "listening assessment" would be helpful to determine the student's CURRENT "listening for meaning" skills. It is important to consider the student's level of understanding and comprehension when text is read aloud or when a story is told. An additional consideration would be the length of time that a student is able to listen with understanding. Interesting, I have been told by others more knowledgeable and experienced than I that the typical adult listens for meaning for 5 to 7 minutes without being distracted. I have also been told that the optimum time a student needs to be able to listen for meaning is 55 minutes - the length of a typical class. Certainly there is not the expectation that a student needs to be able to do those things NOW for the audio format to be a good option for them, but it is important to know these things so that, when supports for this format are considered, we keep in mind that "learning to listen" is important. Some resources for learning to listen will be shared in Step 4: Supports for Use as will discussion of the some technology and format options for rendering the audio format in a way that is actually useful for a student.

Second, when thinking about audio, the team needs to think about whether the audio would be synthesized voice (computer voices, which are getting better and better... anyone remember the Echo???) or natural human speech... or a combination of the two, considering the tasks for which the audio materials will be used.

Personally, I am very happy to have my computer read some things to me, even when its voice is not the "best" because of the flexibility of synthesized speech (often called Text-to-Speech) and I love the synthesized voice in my GPS (named Victoria because is almost always victorious in getting me where I need to go in strange cities), BUT... if I am to listen to a Shakespeare play for junior English, I would CERTAINLY prefer that Liam Neeson read it to me. Not only would I be more engaged, but also I undoubtedly would find it more effective in helping me understand the contant and the phrasing... the point, after all, of the assignment in the first place.

And then there is the issue of navigation... How a student "gets around" in the audio format. When everyone turns to page 60, I want to be sure that the student using the audio format can do the same effectively and efficiently... more about that when we discuss about Step 4: Supports for Use

So, with those thoughts to start us out, please add you thoughts, reflections, and words of wisdom about the audio format.

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  • Re:STEP 2: The Audio Format posted by Grace on Jul 27, 2009

    All of this information is so helpful! I am wondering, though, if there is a "listening assessment" available (or will that be part of the info in Step 4)? I gave an informal one to a middle school student comparing text-to-speech with her independent reading, and discovered some interesting information about her learning needs, so I know it's very important. If there is one out there developed already, that would be great to use. Thanks.

    • Re:STEP 2: The Audio Format posted by joy Zabala on Jul 27, 2009

      You might want to have a look at the Listening Skills Inventory at In case that horrendously long URL does not work, just google "learning through listening". Not only does the whole site come up at the top of the google results, but also there is a link right to the Listening Skills Inventory.

      • Re:STEP 2: The Audio Format posted by Grace on Jul 28, 2009

        Thank you, Joy, that URL worked and the site is great. In fact they offer lots of information on supported reading (reading with the support of recorded materials), and the reasons why it's so beneficial for students. I sometimes have teachers object to using text-to-speech because they feel it gives the students an unfair advantage over the others, or does the reading for them. This site lays out good rationale for using it, saying that it makes learning possible, but not necessarily easier. Our students still need to go through the same process to learn the material as those without supported reading. What is easier is that the barrier is removed for our students who would otherwise have to work so much harder than the others in decoding and comprehending what they read.

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