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Making the Most of Standard Technology to Enhance Learning

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By Lisa Wahl, M.A.

Customizing Text: Reorganizing and Editing

Electronic versions of text allow a parent or teacher to rearrange or add to the information presented, in order to reduce the child's frustration and/or increase his comprehension of material. For example, an article on geology may be broken up into shorter paragraphs. After each paragraph, you might insert key questions about the facts, along with room for the student to type the answers. You might also insert a summary before the actual text, to give the child a "preview" of the text that follows. For a student who needs a reduced amount of text to read, you might eliminate less important material, such as details not essential to understanding the concepts presented.

TIP: Electronic sources of summaries and test questions can be found online, from sources such as SparkNotes.

Text to Speech: The computer reads the text aloud

Software that converts text to speech may be helpful if your child is a struggling reader but an effective listener. According to a review of the research by the National Center for Innovative Technology3, when the computer reads, "a nonjudgmental learning environment is created, where a student can reread the same passage with a fluent model as frequently as needed."

Having the computer read text aloud is a strategy that can be used in a number of ways. A student who struggles with decoding may increase comprehension as a result of an auditory pre-reading and/or post-reading. Some children may find specific words difficult and will only need to hear those words read aloud. Some programs highlight each word as it is read aloud, offering the reinforcement of reading and listening together.

One way to have a computer read text is to use speech features within a program you may already own, such as Inspiration®, Kidspiration®, AppleWorks®, StoryBook Weaver Deluxe®, and KidPix Deluxe®. You can use these programs to highlight and read aloud electronic text.

Books you download may be formatted for the free Microsoft Reader software for the PC, which maintains the look of the original book (page numbers and graphics), and offers book-marking and other helpful features. Microsoft Reader offers a free Text-to-Speech Package for speech access.

Technology Tip

Within a standard word processing program, you can use a free speech utility that will read aloud any highlighted text when you press a key combination.

  • For the Macintosh 10.3 and above, the utility is included (System Preferences>Speech>Spoken Interface). Macintosh provides a range of fun voices, but many people find "Victoria" and "Bruce" are the most natural sounding.
  • For Microsoft Windows, NaturalReader is one of several free speech utilities available.

Adobe Reader (version 7 and above) has a command to read aloud an entire page that you select within a PDF. If you find the story or article your child needs to read in PDF format, you may find that the text can be highlighted, copied, and pasted into a word processor where it can be used more flexibly. In a "protected" PDF, you won't be able to change anything, but some versions of Adobe Reader will read the full page.

Technology Tip

In Adobe Reader, the Read Out Loud command is found under the View menu, along with Pause and Stop commands.

If speech seems to help your child, you can also purchase specific assistive technology tools such as text-to-speech software as described in Speech Synthesizers/Screen Readers.