What is text-to-speech technology and how does it support our students?

As educators, we’ve been working with text-to-speech for many years now. Most of us are familiar with free or commercial products that can be used for reading digital text. But what does text-to-speech actually DO? And how does it support our students when they read?

We know that reading is a process of constructing meaning from print and decoding is just one element of this process. (Reading Rockets, 2001). We also know that students who struggle with decoding text need adaptations in order to access content. Text-to-speech technology is an important adaptation that allows students to access content to which they would not otherwise have access. By reading the text aloud to the student through voice synthesis or through audio narration, difficulties with decoding are bypassed. 

Check out this demonstration of text to speech to see the technology in action.

In her 2013 article “Text to Speech as Inclusive Reading Practice: Changing Perspectives, Overcoming Barriers” Dr. Michelann Parr from the Shulich School of Education at Nipissing University discussed the difficulties that students with learning or reading disabilities encounter when they read:

“While phonics instruction (Adams, 1994; National Reading Panel, 2000) benefits many students, there is a group of students who may never achieve a level of speed, fluency, and accuracy that supports their emotional, social, cognitive, and intellectual development. The problem is one of information processing: by the time they have successfully decoded the word, they have little to no energy or capacity left to solve the word, let alone make sense of it, and then do something with it (i.e., comprehend, respond) (Hirsch, 2003). As a result, many of these students enter into a vicious cycle of withdrawal from text, which widens the gap between those who read well and those who don’t.”

Dr. Parr makes the point that by bypassing difficulties associated with decoding, text-to-speech technology can disrupt this cycle of withdrawal from text. Therefore, by focusing on an alternate format of delivery, text-to-speech could be an important factor in influencing student engagement with text and foster a love of reading.

For students with learning disabilities, text to speech can help them:

-decode text that they could otherwise not decode fluently

-better comprehend text by bypassing primary difficulties with decoding

-become more independent in their opportunities to engage with print

-reduce fatigue and frustration associated with weak decoding/comprehension

(Learning Technologies Alberta, 2016)

So now we know that TTS can help students with learning disabilities…in our next post we will explore our students’ learning profiles in order to understand who benefits most from TTS.

Author: andreaprupas

I'm the Assistive Technology Consultant at English Montreal School Board. Interested and passionate about assistive technology, accessibility, and teaching and learning.

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