MOJAVE— Students in Mojave Unified School District are being challenged to listen to books during their upcoming winter break, a competition that kicks off a novel new literacy program in the District.

Improving reading skills is one of the District’s top priorities, Superintendent Katherine Aguirre said. To aid in that goal, the District has engaged a new platform called Learning Ally, which provides a vast library of easily accessible audiobooks suitable for all grade levels.

As a means of introducing the platform, students and their families are asked to read or listen to as many books as they can during the break, with prizes to be awarded when they return to classes, in January. Prizes include top reader, top listener, top school and the like.

The Learning Ally platform features more than 80,000 titles to choose from, for all ages and interests, including adults.

“We just want to make sure that everyone knows the books are accessible to families with kids in the schools,” she said. “They’re amazing for listening to when you’re commuting, they’re amazing for while you’re doing chores around the house or wrapping presents … or cooking, all of those things are great accompaniment.”

The District is encouraging parents to listen with their children so they can talk about the books with them.

“Those conversations are really helpful for them to increase their vocabulary, and get to a deeper level of understanding of thought processes,” Aguirre said.

Listening to audiobooks helps with reading and literacy skills, even without following along with the story on a written page.

With an audiobook, “you’re listening to somebody read perfectly for hours,” she said, which helps with word prediction, hearing well-constructed sentences and other aspects of comprehension.

“When they listen to a certain number of hours of audiobooks, their actual reading level does improve, and they don’t have to have the book in front of them,” Aguirre said. “If you’ve ever learned the lyrics to a song because you’ve listened to it, it’s the same idea.”

One of the more simple parts of reading is to recognize words on a page. But the true meaning of reading is to learn how to apply the text in other ways, she said.

The benefit of listening to something read improves this comprehension, Aguirre said, which is always higher than the ability to decode written words.

For example, a student will understand a movie they’ve seen and heard when the actual written script is higher than their reading level.

In the same manner, students will understand a book at a much higher reading level than their own when they hear it read to them.

“You can have conversations about higher-level readers if you listen to them than if you stick with only your reading level,” Aguirre said.

This then will translate to improvements in reading written materials.

“It is amazing,” she said.

The Learning Ally platform also has textbooks, which students who are having difficulties in reading may use to better understand the materials for a variety of courses, so they don’t fall behind in the core content, while still working on improving reading skills.

“It’s a huge tool,” she said.

The audiobooks are available online. Students who don’t already have access at home may check out Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots from the District.

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