Teaching Text-to-Speech

In order to determine if use of text-to-speech will help to bypass a reading difficulty, each student needs to be assessed one-on-one by a competent professional, such as a Speech & Language Pathologist (SLP).

Here is a sample process used by Sandra Amyot, an SLP at the Lester B. Pearson School Board, to help her determine if, and how, text-to-speech can benefit her students with reading challenges.Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 1.09.45 PM

 Seven Tips To Personalize and Individualize Text-to-Speech Technology

  1. Explore the speech options available in your text to speech software and assess which one works best for your student while writing. * Note-these are also available in many free tools as well:
  • Speak each word
  • Speak each sentence
  • Continuous reading

2. Promote re-reading (as many times as the student needs to). Re-reading can have a significant effect on comprehension for many students.

3. Try different voices if they are available within the text-to-speech product. Always ask students which voices they prefer. What sounds robotic to one individual can sound perfect to another!

4. Increase or decrease the rate of speech as needed. *Note that in some narrated       e-book collections, sometimes the pace that the book is read in cannot be changed.

5. “Chunk” the text. Many students will have a difficult time listening to entire pages of text or a chapter of a novel. Start by asking students to listen to a few sentences or a short paragraph instead and then ask questions to assess comprehension.

6. Develop comprehension strategies that can be used with text to speech. Generally, these are the same strategies that students will use when reading a book in any format. Comprehension strategies are conscious plans-sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of text. Comprehension strategy instruction helps students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension. For inspiration, see the comprehension strategies highlighted in OISE’s Balanced Literacy Diet.

7. When using text to speech for writing, develop listening skills. This is important so that students will be able to reflect on the meaning of their text while writing. Many students can hear errors in the text, but might not be able to see them. Ask your student, “does that sound right?” (Andrew & Sweeney, 2014)

Compensation and Remediation

It is important to note that text-to-speech is considered a compensation, or a bypass method.  Teachers will want to continue to teach reading skills (remediation), in combination with compensation, for those students who will benefit.  It requires learner customization and a balanced approach. The time allocated to remediation versus compensation will depend on factors such as program outcomes and the profile of the student (ability, age, personal goals, etc.).  More information is provided in Susan Waite’s narrated slide show on the page Questions answered by speech-language pathologists

Whether reading traditionally, or with text-to-speech, the student can continue to use the same literacy strategies before, during and after reading.  Here is an example. Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 1.39.55 PM

Once students reach an educational level where they are expected to “read to learn” rather than “learn to read”, a print disability can seriously impede their achievement and growth. As explored on the page, What is reading?, we need to remember that we use many of the same strategies to construct meaning from print, whether the message is read or heard. Making alternate formats available, as well as presenting information in a variety of media types, is essential for inclusive and differentiated education.

Sandra Amyot, SLP, Lester B Pearson School Board
Susan Waite, SLP, English Montreal School Board

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