Why does CSI have an audio component and how is it best used?
Most classrooms are comprised of students with varied strengths, needs and levels of reading and comprehension. Few teachers would debate the importance of catering for the range of students’ needs, either in a composite class of mixed abilities or with struggling readers and ELL students. Even fewer teachers would dispute how difficult it can be to cater for all needs in a busy classroom environment.
In some classrooms, students with reading difficulties are likely to get instruction that focuses primarily on decoding rather than on meaning and comprehension. They are exposed mainly to text that is simply written and often correspondingly simple to comprehend. While there is a place for students to read text at their independent and instructional reading levels, it is wrong to assume that struggling readers, who may have limited ability to decode the words, are incapable of thinking about text in complex ways. Students who are denied any access to age-appropriate text are at a high risk of falling even further behind their peers and never catching up. This applies not only to their reading skills, but to all subjects across the curriculum; students’ skills in questioning, visualising, making inferences, determining important ideas and synthesising information remain underdeveloped or limited to the below-year-level text they have been reading.
It is becoming more commonly recognised that struggling readers need access to year-level material. A way of providing this that is effective for students and manageable for teachers is to use a variety of scaffolded experiences. During the CSI whole-class lesson, the students who are unable to decode the text used for instruction (either because they are struggling readers or ELL students, or they are reading on-year-level but they are in a composite class with classmates who are older and more skilled) are scaffolded by their teacher and their peers in a shared-reading context. During the cooperative learning activities, appropriate pairing of students can allow the struggling reader to be scaffolded by their partner and/or by the audio recording of the text.
The audio version of each text in the cooperative learning activities provides a good model for all students, regardless of their skill level, to emulate. Audio-assisted reading is widely accepted as especially beneficial for ELL students and struggling readers, as it improves their reading performance. It is also a useful support for students who find the on-year-level text too difficult to decode, as it enables them to read text that would otherwise have been inaccessible. Audio support helps to develop students’ fluency by freeing their attention so they can give maximum concentration to comprehension rather than just “getting the words right”.
The audio recordings of the texts are read by professionals (males and/or females) who have been trained to read fluently and at a range of targeted paces. Each pace is, as indicated by research, appropriate for students of a specific age group.
A group of students can listen to the audio recording on a CD together at a listening centre, or individual students can listen to it on a personal CD player or computer. The listening should take place at the same time as the ‘Interacting with the text’ or ‘During reading’ phase of the cooperative learning activity.
One listen of the recording is usually sufficient to make the text accessible to students, especially if they follow the text as they listen. They should, however, be allowed to revisit the text with the support of the audio if the need arises during later phases of the activity, such as ‘Reflecting on text’, ‘After reading’ or ‘Writing activity’. There is also convincing evidence of the value of repeated readings of the same text, with and without the audio for support and modelling.