Toolkit #1 – Text-To-Speech

Type of compensatory support

Text-to-Speech

A general overview of this type of compensatory support

Text-to-speech software and applications takes digital text and converts the text into speech. Parr (2011) states that “TTST [text-to-speech technology] allows any text to be read aloud by a computer-synthesized voice; it has the potential to empower struggling readers to work independently within grade-level expectations and demonstrate high-level thinking” (p. 1). In the past, critics of TTS (text-to-speech) have been critical of the speech sounding to robotic and difficult to understand. Software and speech applications have improved over time. People from different linguistic backgrounds can choose voices to fit their speech patterns and the speech has become less robotic sounding and is moving closer to sounding like a human voice. New developments in TTS software let the software not only translate text but visual images (pictures or graphs) as well, allowing this software and its applications to reach more people (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012).

The kinds of students who may benefit from this type of compensatory support

A wide range of people can benefit from using text-to-speech software. Biancarosa (2012) identifies the mounting demands in reading that students face as they advance in their school levels. Students are given text that is more complex, with more demanding vocabulary and concepts. Due to the increasingly challenging reading materials as students proceed through school, there are a variety of students with different needs can benefit from having text spoken out loud to them.

Some students who might benefit from using TTS are students with:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Visual impairments
  • Intellectual disabilites
  • Mobility issues
  • Physical disabilities
  • Attention issues
  • Limited English language

TTS also provides assistance for student without disabilities, as well. These students can use TTS to hear books, websites, documents, etc being read to them. Students who are strong auditory learners may also find that listening to text spoken helps them better retain information.

How the compensatory support may support student learning

There is a huge potential for text-to-speech software and applications to support student learning. It provides support for struggling readers and allows students who may have difficulties accessing text the ability to access text in a different way. Parr (2011) believes that traditional reading strategies work for a lot of students but there are some students who can not move past the information processing stage. “By the time the word is successfully decoded, the child may have neither the energy nor the capacity left to understand and utilize the content…many of these students enter into a vicious cycle of withdrawal from text. Frustrated, they often stop reading” (p. 2). TTS can encourage students to move beyond the decoding stage and into the comprehension and enjoyment stages of reading.

Using TTS, students can have:

  • Proofreading support
  • Vocabulary development support
  • Pronunciation of words
  • Comprehension support
  • Fluency support – pacing, expression, tone, and inflection

Conditions in the learning environment that would support the effect use of this type of compensatory support

The main requirement to use TTS in a classroom is access to technology. This technology would include computers, tablets, iPads/iPods, and ereaders. Technology costs money so educators would have to have the support of administration to purchase the different technology required.

As well, teachers need to plan and organize instruction so students have access to digital text that can then be translated into spoken words through devices. Classroom environments need to be closely considered. Before purchasing or implementing TTS into the classroom there are a number of questions teachers and administrators should consider: Where and how will the technology be set-up? Who will use the technology? Is it available for all? Will students have to provide their own headphones? Questions like these need to be carefully thought out before implementing the text-to-speech technology. Teachers need to be able to weigh the benefits against cost and environment.

The planning considerations for embedding the use of this type of compensatory support in learning activities and/or teaching routines

As mentioned previously, the learning environment needs to be considered, as does how this technology will be used in the classroom. Parr (2011) states

            Although text-to-speech technology is one way to differentiate instruction…there are  obstacles to classroom use. Struggling readers worry that they may be stigmatized, while confident readers worry that TTST users are cheating or receiving a special privilege. Parents and teachers worry that if students read with a computer, they will never read independently (p. 2).

The team needs to appreciate that some students will find TTS software useful and some will not. Balajthy (2005) states that “Software that is purchased hastily, without a thoughtful plan of implementation, will go unused…When use of the software is a central part of a student’s curriculum, it will play a much more powerful role than if it is an occasional add-on” (para. 27). Decisions about technology needs, should be made by a team that looks at the strengths and needs the learner has, the learning environment and the tasks the learner is expected to complete in that environment.

Another consideration when using TTS in the classroom is training for both students and teachers on how to use the technology in the classroom. Teachers need to understand how and where to access digital text. They may need training on how to scan documents. Teachers and administrators need to realize that this will take time and allocate the time and training to this process. Also, students need to be trained on how to use TTS successfully. For learners, the use of TTS maybe challenging but with timely and appropriate training, learners can use TTS productively. Teachers need to realize this is an ongoing process that may require additional scaffolding for the students.

The final consideration is making sure that students are involved in the process of learning, using and evaluating the TTS technology. Teachers need to be willing to have students communication their experiences and then by able to respond to what the students are experiencing. Evaluation procedures should be in place before the technology is implemented in the classroom.

The types of learning activities (tasks) this type of compensatory support would facilitate

There are a variety of different learning activities that teachers and students can use with text-to-speech software. These can include: Having text read to the student from books, textbooks, websites, PDF and word files. Students can use TTS to proofread their own writing to check for grammar, spelling and comprehension mistakes. They can use it for vocabulary development and word pronunciation. Using TTS gives students the independence to comprehend different text and have access to writing that may have, in the past, not been accessible to them.

References

Balajthy, E. (2005). Text-to-speech software for helping struggling readers. Reading Online, 8(4). http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=balajthy2/index.html

Biancarosa, G. (2012). Adolescent Literacy: More Than Remediation. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 22-27. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/src/detail?sid=b8a98d4d-67db-428b-8f63-ebc07d78bed1%40sessionmgr112&vid=4&hid=127&bdata=JnNpdGU9c3JjLWxpdmU%3d#db=afh&AN=73183258

Biancarosa, G. & Griffiths, G. G. (2012). Technology Tools to Support Reading in the Digital Age. The Future of Children, 22(2), 139-160. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ996196.pdf

Parr, M. (2011). The Voice of Text-to-Speech Technology One Possible Solution for Struggling Readers? What Works? Research into Practice. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/ww_ttst.pdf

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