If a student struggles every day with decoding, how does comprehension occur? The answer is that is decoding is laborious and slow, comprehension will not occur and the student will not get the information that’s needed. Some students are absolutely brilliant at covering up what they don’t know and are basically just getting through. I’ve known many of these students in my career as an educator and I’m sure that most of you if not all of you have known them too. These are the students who don’t cause any trouble, they are always on time and hardly ever absent. These are the students that sit in the back of the classroom so hopefully they won’t be called on to answer a question. Text-to-speech programs have been around for quite a while now and can help struggling students to comprehend. Students don’t have to feel different when using these programs if they are on all the computers in the classroom, in the computers labs, and in the media center. Access is crucial and students can also have these programs installed on their computer at home. These are the programs that I’m going to focus on in this blog:
Natural Reader (free version)
If you have Microsoft Word version 10 or better, than your operating system already has a text-to-speech feature included. This feature works very well but you need to remember to highlight the works that you want spoken. I have used this feature with young students so they get immediate feedback when they are writing and older students that need to check themselves or need to read papers that are given to them. Students can also use this program to read tests that the teachers have in word format (if this is an accommodation on their IEP, or 504 plan). Many adults (including myself) use this feature to check for any grammatical errors. THESE ARE FREE!!! THEY SHOULD BE ON EVERY COMPUTER IN EVERY CLASSROOM!!
These are the direction on how to use it:
Using the Speak text-to-speech feature
Text-to-speech (TTS) is the ability of your computer to play back written text as spoken words. Depending upon your configuration and installed TTS engines, you can hear most text that appears on your screen in Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Speak is a built-in feature of Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote, in the language of your version of Office. For example, if you are using the English version of Office, the English TTS engine is automatically installed. Add Speak to the Quick Access Toolbar
You can add the Speak command to your Quick Access Toolbar by doing the following:
Work Talk has been around for a couple of years and was used in conjunction with Microsoft Word before Word Speak came to be. It can be upload at this website and used as an “Add-in” on your tool bar. It’s very easy to use and you also need to highlight the words that you want to hear spoken. This is very similar to Word Speak and can be used for students and adults of all ages.
Balabolka is a free, comprehensive text-to-speech program that can be used with any HTML or PDF files on your computer. You cut and paste text into the program or you can just open a file and have it read to the student. It has a magnification system, bookmarking, pronunciation correction, spell check, colored overlays (for students with visual impairments), various voices, and many languages for ESL students. This program is very easy to use and students seem to like it. You can use Balabolka with any open source book site (books out of copyright), to have various literature accessible for all students. Here is the link. My advice is to always try it out on your home system to learn how to use it correctly and to get a good feel for it. If you find that this program will be beneficial to your students then you need to speak to your IT people in your district to see if it’s possible to upload the program on various computers.
Natural Reader (free version)
Natural Reader is also a free text-to-speech program that can be used with any computer. You can open files from your documents or cut and paste into the program. It only has two voices but they are pretty decent to listen to and it’s only in English. There is an option for high contrast for individuals with visual impairments and the pay for version (49.50) has an option to download the text into an MP3 player so the students can listen to when they have the time. This is a good program and I feel that it can be used with any age group successfully.
All of these programs are wonderful to start with and to ascertain if a text-to-speech program is needed. If these programs are shown to be successful with your students then you might want to look into some professional programs that can be used for post-secondary education and work. It’s always good to take data before you start using these programs (get a good baseline), so that you can measure the improvement the student has shown in decoding and comprehension. In no way does using these programs impede the learning or reading process, on the contrary, these programs can enhance a student’s ability to read and comprehend. We all know that “Success breeds success”, so if your students feel empowered by these products, they can achieve so much more in the academic and vocational environment. Just try at least one of these programs out and you’ll see what a difference they can make in the life of a student who struggles with reading.