Before entering the fifth grade at Lewiston Elementary School, Mitchell Davis had read only 10 or 12 books in his entire life. In the past six months, he's read more than 20.
The 10-year-old is part of a program conducted by his teacher, Brett Cooper, that lets pupils listen to audio books while reading along.
The result is that formerly low-level readers, such as Mitchell, are becoming bookworms.
"I like it because I can hear what I'm reading, and I like the special effects," said Mitchell, who now reads at least one hour a day at home without the audio tape.
"I've been able to pay more attention to the book."
Mitchell's reading skills have improved by two grade levels since he entered the fifth grade in August, Mr. Cooper said.
"We're always instructed to be more hands-on and doing things where we're engaging more than one sense," he said. "By doing books on tape, they are getting the auditory while having the visual stimulation, but then they're also getting more intrinsic motivation where they're getting interested in it."
An avid audio book listener, Mr. Cooper developed the idea two years ago for a struggling pupil while still a teacher at Bel Air Elementary School.
His pupil's improvement impressed him so much that he gathered together as many tape players and headphones as he could find at his home and began checking out audio books from libraries for other pupils.
"The main things I saw was a better attitude toward reading, increased fluency, increased vocabulary and improved reading comprehension," Mr. Cooper said.
Last school year, he collected enough data showing improved reading comprehension skills in his pupils that the University System of Georgia's Reading Endorsement program awarded him a $500 grant. This school year, Reading Endorsement doubled the grant so Mr. Cooper could purchase more tape players and audio books for his 27 pupils.
The action in the audio books, which often use sound effects and are read by multiple professional actors reading different roles, helps students better visualize what they are reading and grasp the novel as a whole, he said.
"It's kind of like the old comparison of not seeing the forest for the trees," Mr. Cooper said. "Kids focus so much on words that they're not putting the whole sentence or paragraph or chapter together. By reading with auditory help, they're seeing the whole picture instead of just looking at specific words."
At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Cooper gave each of his pupils a computerized reading test.
He tested them again in December, and the results showed that, on average, his pupils' reading skills improved by one to two grade levels.
Even good readers, such as 10-year-old Jade Cotton, showed improvement, he said.
Already reading at a sixth-grade level at the beginning of fifth grade, Jade is now reading with the skill of a seventh-grader and will sometimes forgo recess to keep reading.
"If it's a really interesting part, I like to keep reading," she said. "Hearing it while I'm reading it makes it more fun, and I want to know what happens next."
Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.