Access to tools that can support literacy across the curriculum are increasingly at student’s fingertips. As part of a Universal Design for Learning approach, choices and supports for all students are built into the learning design at the outset. Consequently, students should have access to tools that personalise learning and match their needs and preferences across the curriculum. Here are three ideas teachers and students can use to support this approach.
1. Get familiar with Text-to-Speech
Text-to-speech (TTS) software enables a student to select and listen to text in a document or on a webpage. The software usually highlights a paragraph at a time as it is read aloud and often tracks each word as it is spoken in a second colour. TTS software is usually free and built into most devices or can be enabled in a web browsers. It is also possible to purchase more sophisticated TTS tools bundled with other features such as word prediction.
Although the synthetic voices in TTS can take a little getting used to, students can use TTS to:
- listen and read along to unfamiliar texts to develop fluency
- increase comprehension and access to texts beyond reading level
- rest tired eyes and access the text via audio
- listen to the text whilst doing another activity such as exercise, travelling on the bus or walking home from school
- listen back to written work to assist more accurate editing of text.
To get a sense of the potential impact of making text to speech available to students, take a look at this video of US high school students describing the difference having access to text-to-speech has made to their independence, their confidence as learners and to their increasing achievement.
2. Turn on the closed captions on YouTube videos
When using YouTube as a teaching resource, build in learning supports at the outset by selecting video that has closed captions, identified by the cc icon rather than machine captions “guessed” by YouTube. Using closed captions can boost literacy, reading speed, and vocabulary for readers who need additional support.
By turning on the closed captions, students can choose to:
- watch the video, and/or
- read the captions separately or at the same time
- access the interactive transcript posted below the video.
The transcript is really useful when a student needs to find a quote or wants to scan a video to find a specific piece of information. Visit Media Access Australia for more information.
3. Demonstrate how to declutter web pages to support concentration
Introduce students to tools, such as Readability on the Chrome browser or the Safari Reader function on i-devices that strip away the clutter on web pages, so that students can focus more easily on a particular article.
For more information on Universal Design for Learning and the tools above, check out the following links:
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
- Introduction to UDL in video, text and graphics
- Overview of UDL guidelines
- UDL conversations in NZ in the VLN
Text to speech tools
- Natural Reader download: Floating toolbar. Selected text will post into toolbar window. Text highlighted in short sections and read aloud. Can sync with Google Docs.
- Natural Reader Online TTS: Upload document. Text highlighted in short sections and read aloud. Can sync to Google Docs.
- Mac “Speak selection”: Built-in text to speech program. Speaks selected text in all applications including text on internet pages.
- Read and Write for Google Docs: Toolbar opens at the top of a Google Docs page. Selected text highlighted yellow, each word tracked in blue as read aloud. NB Trial version has more features. After 30 days you are left with the basic TTS tool
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