When broadcasting students at Walker Valley High School have not been working on their in-school news show, “The Spill,” they have been recording audiobooks to help children at local elementary schools learn to read well.
This semester, they began recording the reading of children’s books, adding music and sound effects and editing it together. After the recordings are ready, they are made available for local elementary school teachers to use in the classroom.
Broadcasting teacher Scott Webb said he got the idea after speaking with his wife about how some children struggle with learning to read. For some students, it really helps to hear the words while they are looking at the words on a page.
His wife, Jessica Webb, is a second-grade teacher at Charleston Elementary School, and they wondered how his students might be able to help hers.
“We wanted to find a way for the kids who use the books to follow along,” he said.
The Walker Valley’s broadcasting students routinely work on projects beside “The Spill” if time allows, and he gave one of his classes the option to record audiobooks. After he found out which books the second-graders used most often, he gave the high school students a list of titles from which they could choose.
They have since chosen to record audiobooks of titles like “Duck Means Business,” “Pete the Cat,” “Moose’s Loose Tooth,” “Pinkalicious” and “The Giving Tree.”
Once students record reading of the books, they can add in any sound effects they choose. Using editing programs on the computer like Audacity and Adobe Premiere Pro, students work to get the books ready for children to read.
Student Christian Cross said it takes about a week to make an audiobook from start to finish, since they only work on it during class time.
After the audiobooks are finished, they make labels bearing QR codes that can be placed inside the covers of paper-and-ink books. Using devices like iPads that the elementary students already have in the classroom, they can scan the code with the device’s camera. The code then takes them to a website where the audiobook sits ready to be played.
So far, the students at Walker Valley have recorded about 12 books. By the time school is out for the summer, the students are expected to have recorded 15 audiobooks.
Many of the students said they were excited to get to do something new, and help children with their reading at the same time.
Student Joeli Poole has been in the process of recording the main vocals on one of the books for a third time.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was so fun.”
Poole said her favorite book to record so far has been “Pinkalicious,” because she got to give the main character a high-pitched, cheerful voice.
Her classmate Sarah Tarver said her favorite books have also been ones where she has been able to practice making different sound effects with her voice. Tarver pointed out reading a book to a child means getting to speak differently than the students do in the newscasts.
She added Webb regularly updates the students on the reactions of students in his wife’s class. Sometimes, the children will offer constructive criticism by pointing out something like one of the high schoolers talking too fast, but Poole said that helps them make future books better. However, the main piece of feedback has been that they want more titles.
“If it makes reading more fun for them, I’m all for it,” student Jessa Turner said. “It’s been fun for us, too.”
Some of the students said they thought the idea of recording audiobooks for elementary-aged children was such a good one, they hope their friends at other local high schools might someday get to do the same.
Student Andrew Sterrett pointed out more high school students getting to record audiobooks for children in local elementary schools would mean more titles for the children to use.
“More people should get involved with it,” he said.
The project has offered Walker Valley broadcasting students the chance to practice their skills, and Webb said it has already proven to be beneficial to students at his wife’s school. His hope is other elementary school teachers will embrace the project and make it available to their students.
“Ultimately, it will not be just Charleston — we hope,” Webb said.
While all of the books that have been recorded so far have been at a second-grade reading level, Webb said he hopes to have students record audiobooks for other grades next year, though they will likely still be just for elementary grades.
In the future, Webb said he would also like to get students in Walker Valley’s Spanish classes involved by recording children’s books written in Spanish, so Spanish-speaking children can have a little extra help learning to read in English. The audiobooks would help them translate the words on the pages.
Anyone interested in listening to or downloading the audiobooks for free can visit www.thespill.org/AudioBooksHome.htm. A document that includes copies of all the QR codes is also available at the website.