The first in our series based on the work of Dr Michelann Parr, a researcher in the use of text-to-speech technology in education, discusses whether text-to-speech technology is truly an aid for struggling readers, or just more educational technology hype.

Text-to-speech technology, which gives students the ability to listen to an audio version of any written content, fits well within a literacy environment of multiple intelligences, multi-modalities and multiple literacies. Adhering to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, the presentation of texts in different formats (auditory and visual) provides learners with a variety of ways to access the content, allowing each individual student to learn in the way that is personally most effective.

This bimodal presentation of content improves comprehension and academic results. Wise, Ring, and Olson (2000) found text-to-speech to support decoding, which frees the listener to focus on the meaning of the content rather than just the act of reading itself. This in turn encourages comprehension of larger concepts, student dialogue and writing. But as Dr Parr points out, this assistive technology has even more important implications: increasing motivation and self-confidence for all different kinds of students.

Research shows us that belief in oneself and choice in what and when to read act as powerful motivators for children to learn. Text-to-speech technology does just that: it facilitates independence since the student can read on his own, choice of what to read and self esteem as he is successful not only in reading the text, but in understanding grade-level content alongside his peers.

“For those students who are frustrated because of a lack of decoding skills and fluency,” observes Dr Parr, “text to speech is a confident internal voice, a support for comprehension and a valuable lifelong tool.”

Dr. Michelann Parr, Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, Canada Michelann Parr taught Kindergarten to Grade 6 for over ten years. Her experience includes early literacy intervention and working with struggling students. She teaches language, literacy, and special education, at both graduate and undergraduate levels, in the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University. She holds workshops on successful approaches to teaching literacy, poetry, writing, drama, and using technology as literacy support. [textaid_cta]