EducationPop QuizSpecial Education

Pop Quiz: Books on Tape = Cheating?

Recently I was sitting in a meeting about a student, who we’ll call Kevin.  In this meeting were Kevin’s parents, the guidance counselor, his case manager, myself and the other teachers who teach him.  Kevin is undergoing a period of work avoidance, which is a relatively common problem.   As we were discussing possible strategies to help him stay on top of his work the English literature teacher commented on how well Kevin was doing with To Kill a Mockingbird.  She said that Kevin really seemed to like the book, he was staying on top of the reading and even getting ahead.  He was also able to be an active participant in the book discussion, and had some insights into the novel that other students missed.  At this point Kevin’s father scoffed and said, “Well Kevin isn’t really reading the book.  He is listening to the book on tape.”

This struck me.

There is a mindset that equates listening to class content rather than reading it as cheating.  This in my humble opinion is bullshit.  Obviously listening to the book is giving Kevin access to the story.  He is being exposed to the ideas in a great American novel.  Does it matter that in order to process the information he has to listen to it?  Could he have made the same insights if he was forced to only read the book?

The argument used to be that the only way to have access to information was to read it, so it is to the benefit of the student to force them to read, but that is not true anymore. Most computers, tablets and ebook readers have the option to listen to the text as well as read it.  So as long as you can get an electronic version of the document or scan it into the computer you can have it read to you.  Granted it is in an electronic voice and it does lose some of the nuances of the spoken word.

In my opinion Kevin should be praised for using an adaptive technology.  He should not be belittled for it.  He should be told here is how you can listen to all the textbooks in all your classes.  He should be shown here is how you take a paper document, scan it in the computer and have the computer read it to you.

So my question to you School of Doubters is this: Is it cheating to listen to a text? or is it better to figure out the best way for you as an individual to access information and utilize it without shame?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

Featured image Listening to History Bronze by Bill Woodrow photo taken by Cliff

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.


  1. April 16, 2014 at 4:13 pm —

    I listen to books on tape (really on CDs) all the time and it never occurred to me to think of it as “cheating”. Sometimes it is less than optimal, especially for non-fiction books (e.g. “look at figure three in the PDF file in the last CD”) but otherwise I rarely find time to sit and read except late at night and then I fall asleep too fast. Also, my eyes aren’t what they once were. So, I wouldn’t say it is cheating, but it is different and in some cases you can get more out of the book and in some cases less.

  2. April 16, 2014 at 4:16 pm —

    There are two purposes to reading books in school. The first is to discuss the books. Kevin is excelling at this part. The second is to make sure people CAN read. Here is where it gets tricky. If Kevin is able to read generally, but has a hard time reading lengthy pieces, or has some other problem with books/novels specifically, I would say go for it! Absolutely! If his reading SKILLSET is at grade level, books on tape all you want. I have been trying and I think failing to not use an ableist vocabulary here.
    Anyways, if their goal for Kevin is to have him discuss the books, books on tape is a perfectly reasonable accommodation. If the goal is to work on his reading skills, that is more problematic. The issue is that kids are graded on something which is often not the actual reason for their completion of the task.

  3. April 17, 2014 at 1:08 pm —

    Perhaps Kevin has some learning difficulty that makes listening to texts a more effective way for him to understand the material. I work with the disability resource centre at my university and one of the accommodations we offer to students is the option to have tests read to them if the require it. This allows these students to understand the questions at the same level as their peers who understand through reading alone. It’s not cheating; it’s an alternate learning strategy.

    • April 17, 2014 at 5:52 pm —

      msmath – I completely agree with you. A special ed teacher who I work with said it best when he said – Asking a person with reading processing difficulties to take a test without accommodations is like asking a leg amputee to run a race without their prosthetic. But people, even teachers I work with consider having a test read is “cheating” or an unfair advantage.

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