When discussing text-to-speech, educators often ask questions such as, Why should I use text-to-speech if I can just read aloud? and, Will text-to-speech impede literacy development? Speech-Language Pathologists and teachers who use text-to-speech on a regular basis have responded to the most common questions they receive, and summarized their responses below.
Q. For whom is text-to-speech beneficial? For whom is it essential?
A. Text-to-speech technology is essential for students whose reading difficulties are primarily sound-based. These students have trouble identifying words, reading fluently and accurately, and blending sounds. The degree of their literacy difficulty makes independent reading and writing at level nearly impossible.
Text-to-speech technology is beneficial for students with language-based difficulties. Text-to-speech will not make their learning problems go away, but it will make performing academic tasks a little easier. These students are somewhat inaccurate and dis-fluent in their reading. Given an appropriate level of text, they may grope for words, but may still comprehend. They also have some difficulty with spelling, but not to the to the point that they are not able to produce written work. For these students, it is often spoken language that is their primary difficulty.
Q. How do language disorders and reading disabilities differ?
A. Students with specific reading difficulties primarily have problems reading at the word-level. However, these students have little or no problem with listening comprehension. If a text is read to them, they will usually be able to retell. In writing, their problems are primarily due to spelling issues. For example, they may not write a word that they want to use because they’re afraid they’re going to spell it incorrectly. They can often think of words or sentence structures they want to use, but the problem lies in executing their ideas into print.
On the other hand, students with language disorders or difficulties are going to have a lot of difficulties with language comprehension whether they’re getting the text through listening or whether they’re exposed to it through their own reading. Listening comprehension is a problem. Unfortunately, 50% of students with language disorders also have difficulty with decoding, so they have both difficulty with identifying words and with understanding text.
Both reading and language difficulties are lifelong conditions. Even with intervention and optimal classroom instructional practices, these students are always going to have some degree of difficulty with their reading and writing, and they will both require adaptations to function to their maximum.
Q. What is the difference between remediation and compensation?
A. Sometimes we think that if we give students technology we we’ve done the whole job, and that we don’t need to worry about helping them to improve their reading skills. While it’s true that technology can be beneficial in building reading skills, remediation is critical. Specialized instruction or intervention needs to be goal-driven and specifically focused on improving reading abilities. These goals are usually specified on the IEP, and include strategies targeting specific areas of literacy.
Text-to-speech is considered a compensation. It gives the student the means to get the job done in the classroom despite their reading difficulties. Text-to-speech is considered an adaptation, giving students a tool to help them meet the requirements of the regular curriculum.
Q. Will text-to-speech impede literacy development if implemented too early?
A. Sometimes parents and teachers ask if text-to-speech will impede literacy development if implemented it too early. It’s generally not the case that students will have their literacy development and impeded by this, especially if they continue to have effective literacy instruction and spoken language stimulation. Text-to-speech doesn’t prevent students from wanting to read books. In fact, Susan has often found that students who are starting to be successful in in performing academically will want to try, at a certain point in time, to carry out tasks without the technology just to see how well it works. And they’re often happy with their performance. They never get rid of the technology but they start to develop confidence in their abilities because they’ve experienced success and independence via the technology.
Q. Is using text-to-speech considered “cheating”?
A. The Secondary ELA program states that reading is “understood to include spoken, written and media texts, in which listening and viewing are considered to be other forms of reading”, while the Elementary ELA program states that “in differentiated classrooms, all students, including those with decoding problems, have the right to experience the richness of the ideas in texts.” For more discussion on the issue of decoding in literacy, please check out the post, Reflections on using text to speech for reading: the question of “cheating”
Q. Why use a text-to-speech tool when I can simply read aloud to my students?
A. Reading aloud to students is always an option, but offering students materials in a text-to-speech format offers the following benefits:
- creates time for conferencing, which allows for individualized guided writing and reading activities, and identification of learning needs;
- allows students to personally choose their reading material, moving away from the classroom novel model;
- builds student independence as they decide what, when and where to read & re-read;
- supports more focussed reading with highlighting and the ability to change text display and voice options.
Q. When can my student use text-to-speech on an exam?
A. For Ministerial policies, please refer to Chapter 5 “Support Measures for the Evaluation of Learning” of the Administrative Guide for the Certification of Studies and Management of Ministerial Examinations. For more precise information, including how to obtain exams in accessible formats, please contact the professional responsible for sanction des études et des épreuves ministérielles or evaluation adaptations at your school board.
Heather Morrison, Teacher, Perspectives II High School, EMSB
Ruwani Payoe, Teacher, Perspectives II High School, EMSB
Susan Waite, Speech-Language Pathologist, EMSB