This is one of those products that has been around for a long time and has become an extremely important tool for many of my students in and out of school. There are several different text-to-speech program that do this either as part of the operating system, software, in the browser or as a web app, but I am going to focus on the text-to-speech product that my students use with their Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) MacBook laptops.
Product Name: Apple Text-to-Speech
Company Name: Apple
Type: Desktop Software
Simply allowing students (in my opinion any student who needs it) to use text-to-speech tools during classes can give students a sense of independence and confidence that they do not have without this tool. Most of my students do better with the see it, hear it together method than they do when those functions are separated and they and they have a better chance of comprehending grade level work.
I am noticing that many content area teachers are beginning to make their assignments available electronically, which allows student to use the text-to-speech program in content area classes. This is great for my students – now to just get past the “I can’t do it syndrome” that so many of my students have learned in school and have a difficult time unlearning.
The other benefit is that with student’s being able to use Apple’s text-to-speech, it allows the teacher and teaching assistants to focus on other areas of student weaknesses or other students who might have a higher level of need, instead of having to read text to a student.
What I like: Apple’s Text-to-Speech is not a tool that is limited to only Special Education students, it is available to all students that choose to use it – it is a great example of UDL in action.
iTunes allows the user to create study guides or “personal” podcasts from assignments that can be listened to on their iPods, iTouch or other device. This capability has so many possibilities that could be done and is vastly underutilized in my opinion.
What I don’t like: Apple’s text-to-speech program works very well, the biggest thing is when students first learn that they can use it in a word processor, they tend to use it to “say” rather “interesting” comments about each other, the teacher and whatever else they can think of – usually rather inappropriate for the setting.But it isn’t anything all that different than I would have done when I was their age, sometimes we conveniently forget that we were not the angels, we make believe that we were when we were in school. This is something that the students get tired of after a few days and they usually just use the program correctly now, but it sure can be interesting around school while they are getting used to using Text-to-Speech.
There are still teachers who are primarily paper-based and don’t understand how powerful and useful text-to-speech can be for a student who does not read at grade level expectations. We need to take the time to scan documents, allow them to use their computer and the headphones so that our students are able to use this tool in class.
Instead of like some teachers saying it gives the student to much opportunity to “mess around” on the laptop, using TTS is an unfair advantage for that student and they don’t really need to use it, because the student is just lazy and won’t do the work anyway.
Oh well I will get off that soapbox.
The reality is that I use Apple’s text-to-speech program myself when I am reading a technical, special education documents that I have to understand or proofreading something that I really want to have correct. The text-to-speech forces me to slow down and focus on what I am reading, which in turn allows me to understand more of what I am reading or correct mistakes that I otherwise would have missed.
Many of my students use this text-to-speech daily in class and also in other classes where their assignments are in electronic form. Some of my students are enjoying their new found ability to read so much, that they are now reading for pleasure, when at the start of the year they fought tooth and nail not to read at all.
Recommendation: There are several text-to-speech programs out there for all operating systems, most browsers and many web applications. Using and accessing text-to-speech software should not just be limited to Special Education students, many students and adults would benefit from using them to focus their reading or for proofreading their writing. Overall, Apple’s Text-to-Speech program is a great product and I highly recommend using it or other text-to-speech tools more in the classroom.
Text to Speech is a powerful tool that can help students be more confident and gain higher levels of independence which I believe most students that I teach want. Apple’s built-in Text-to-Speech program is one of the easiest to use and the voice Alex is better than most, I strongly recommend using it whenever possible for the classroom and beyond.
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