Imagine the impact if a student could play back the directions for an assessment rather than wait for the teacher to repeat them. Consider the potential for a student to be able to leverage resources above their reading level simply because they can hear the text rather than struggle to read it. With a few simple changes, a student’s entire learning experience could be transformed.
Separating Comprehension from Decoding
Some students, particularly those with language-based learning disorders, may be able to comprehend text but not decode it. For them, text is the problem - not learning. However, with text-to-speech, students can focus on comprehension without the challenge of decoding because the device can do the latter.
By encouraging students to interact with written content on mobile devices, we begin removing many of the restrictions previously placed upon their learning environment. Through the technology, students no longer need to rely on teachers, parents, or peers to decode content - subsequently allowing them to take more ownership of their own learning process.
- iSpeech and Chrome Speak extensions for Chrome
- Announcify for Android & Chrome
- Text-to-Speech Accessibility for Android (directions)
- Speak Selection on iPad (video tutorial)
- Speak Selected Text on Mac (tutorial & directions)
Removing the Barriers to Output
Think about students who struggle with output. These students might orally express themselves beautifully; however, put a pen in their hand, or stick them in front of a keyboard, and NOTHING came out. The physical nature of excising words onto a page-layout stifles these students. With mobile devices, we remove the limiting factor by allowing students to talk through their ideas and then use that information to formulate the desired outputs.
Speech-to-text used to be an anomaly (or at least really expensive). However, a number of tools now make it extremely accessible for students. What if, instead of asking students to construct their thoughts through writing or typing, we allowed them to leverage speech-to-text tools as an option for having type appear on screen - bypassing the mechanical challenge of putting words on a page.
- Siri - Apple’s intelligent assistant
- Dragon Dictation - the iOS and Android apps are FREE
- Voice Recognition - Chrome app that converts speech directly into text and then saves to Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or your computer. It also recognizes multiple languages.
Similarly, audio recording provides another avenue to support students with output challenges. Practically every mobile device comes with a microphone, allowing students to quickly capture their ideas, play them back, and then use those recordings as a form of audio notes. By incorporating audio, students focus on idea generation without the added challenge of generating text on a page or screen.
Audio Recording Tools
- Evernote - take audio notes on any device (video tutorials)
- Croak.It - ONE button, no login, and 30 seconds of audio recording on any device (video tutorial)
- SoundCloud - record, store, and share audio clips from any device
Teachers could also use these tools to provide audio feedback as well as audio support to students.
It’s the Little Things
Sometimes, the smallest changes can have the largest impact - particularly when trying to reach a diverse student population. With technology, we tend to think about large projects, massive curricular overhauls, and the need to transform learning. While these are noble endeavors, it may be the adaptive nature of technology, and mobile devices in particular, that has the greatest impact on student learning.
Beth Holland leads professional development workshops in schools across the USA, writes for a number of publications including Edutopia and Edudemic, presents at conferences, and manages social media. She has expertise in elementary and middle school education, mobile learning, as well as assistive technologies. Beth holds an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a B.S. in Communications from Northwestern University.