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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Jan
12

TTS: Then and Now

In the last 25 years, during which I have worked for the PATINS Project, assistive technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Today I am specifically considering one technology and how it has advanced greatly.

It is interesting and somewhat exciting to see where it was, and where it is going. My early involvement with text to speech (TTS) was with the software program Kurzweil 1000.

The software, when fitted to an appropriate computer configuration, would take scanned text and through the programs optical character recognition (OCR) would convert the text output to speech.

Kurzweil 1000 was primarily used by individuals who were blind or had low vision. Although others began using it for students who had a reading disability. From that enlightening came the Kurzweil 3000 program which addressed the other needs of not just reading but writing and study skills.

There have been many other text to speech programs developed. Some being Natural Reader, W.Y.N.N., Word Q, TextHelp Read and Write, Microsoft Narrator, Snap and Read to name a few.

These programs have had a major impact on struggling readers and those individuals who can’t access text in the traditional way.

For many users of TTS, one complaint that crossed programs were the robotic voices which were synthesized and lacked inflection and other natural nuances of human speech.

Not only was TTS used in software programs, but it was and still is a vital component in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, software and applications.

Although TTS was/is an integral part of assistive technology for individuals to communicate and interact, it was just a matter of time before it became mainstream.

Very few people would know the background of TTS or its evolution of augmentative speech when using SIRI or Alexa. They have become a fixture in everyday life from young to old. Their voice sounds realistic, and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) used makes them almost lifelike.

What got me thinking about what my early years’ experience with TTS is a program my wife, Rita, came across a few weeks ago. The program is Speechify and it is TTS program and much more. Speechify is a text to speech program for desktop or mobile devices that uses computer generated voices.

This is one of many that have incorporated OCR to translate its output to speech. What is interesting about Speechify is that it doesn’t use voice files that are part of the devices operating system but generates speech using its own file sources.

You can choose voices from fourteen different countries, including Spanish, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Hindi, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, Italian, German, Hebrew, and others. It offers male and female voices for the specific language, but it also has the voices of Gwyneth Paltrow and Snoop Dogg.

This is not an endorsement for Speechify (for which there is a cost to use). This is one view for me of where TTS started, and what is possible now. The advancement is phenomenal and Speechify is just one of many TTS programs out there.

The main reason Speechify caught my attention was Snoop Dogg’s voice, you should demo him. What a hoot!

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Aug
11

Are You Prepared to Provide AEM (Accessible Educational Materials)? Ready! Set! GO!

By now most of us know that the 3 categories of a print disability specified by the IDEA are 1.) Vision Impaired, 2.) Physical Disability and 3.) Reading Disability, such as dyslexia. Since technology, teaching strategies, and universally designed classrooms make these disabilities navigable, I prefer to call them differences when possible. The first 2 typically are evident at birth, so the child will enter school with a good deal of documentation of their learning needs concerning the condition. 

The most frequently identified reading difference, dyslexia, is one of the most researched and documented conditions, affecting 20 percent of the population (1 in 5)  and represents 80-90 percent of all learning disabilities. 

Here in Indiana, Senate Enrolled Act No. 217 was signed into law in 2018, which requires Indiana schools to develop and implement specific measures regarding dyslexia. In response to that, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has written and posted several guiding documents to help schools and parents understand and meet the tenets of this law. 

As indicated in the guide entitled Dyslexia Programming Guidance for Schools a parent may request that the student receive a formal educational evaluation from the school. After the evaluation, if it is determined that the student requires special education services to successfully meet their educational needs, then the case conference committee (CCC) will assemble to determine if the student has a print disability, in this case, a reading disability. If the answer is yes, then the student requires accessible formats to access the curriculum. In the Individual Education Plan (IEP) a reading disability is indicated as an SLD (Specific Learning Disability) in the Area of Reading.

The following tips will guide you in serving students who have a documented print disability. Also, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) staff has posted a guide to clarify the AEM  process for the CCC that explains DRM (Digital Rights Manager) and teacher tasks in detail.

  • With the new partnership between the ICAM and Bookshare, ICAM staff can search the Bookshare library and place those requests for you, if a needed title is not in the ICAM repository.
  • For the ICAM to fully support Indiana schools as they meet the AEM needs of their students, all students identified with a print disability must be registered in the ICAM.
  • The PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ICAM services are free to schools and grant-funded by the state. Therefore, by using the ICAM, schools are facilitating the provision of services to Indiana schools by adding to the data that PATINS presents to the state.
  • If you are a DRM, please copy/paste this DRM Badge into your electronic signature to identify yourself as a DRM. Also, enlarge the badge, print and hang it outside your door, then take every opportunity to explain to others about AEM, the PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ ICAM, and the IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center). Becoming a DRM requires an appointment by a school's superintendent, or their designee, and training.
PATINS Project/ICAM Digital Rights Manager Badge
  • The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 2004 states that accessible materials must be available to qualified students in a "timely manner" which means at the same time their peers receive their learning materials.                                                                                                                                    
  • When to place orders: 
    • For VI orders of hard copy Braille and Large Print, orders should have been placed in April of this year. If you have received orders since then and for any future orders, enter those as soon as you get them. The IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center) and the ICAM work very hard to help you meet "timely manner",  including for orders placed throughout the school year.
    • For orders of ePub and PDF from the ICAM repository, enter those as soon as possible so we can address unforeseen snags.
    • If you need a title from Bookshare and/or audiobooks from Mackin, you will order those through ICAM Web Ordering, as follows:
      • 1. As a DRM or teacher registered by a DRM, log into ICAM Web Ordering.
      • 2. Choose Make Special Request.
      • 3. Fill in all fields that have an asterisk*, indicate Bookshare or Mackin in the note field, and submit.
If you need assistance at any time, please contact the ICAM Staff. If you would like to become a DRM, we will support you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
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Mar
17

For the Love of Reading

Image of Library with books on bookselves and text: For the the Love of Reading by Amanda Crecelius
QR Code to audio For the Love of Reading Read by Author
Artist Name - For-the-Love-of-Reading-Audio.mp3


For the love of reading 
By Amanda Crecelius

I love reading. I love reading for pleasure, for current news updates, for educational purposes, for self-improvement, and tips and tricks. I love reading with my eyes and with my ears. I L-O-V-E reading. I often have a stack of books by my bedside that I have started to read, some in the living room, and at least one in my daughter’s swim class backpack. My Audible account has around 30 books on my wishlist waiting, not so patiently, for my next credit. My top two genres are Historical Fiction and Psychology. Sometimes, I read both at the same time. As my eyes move over the letters on the page or my ears tune into the tone of the reader, my mind chain links the information to various parts in my memory, my knowledge, and my experiences and it is close to euphoric. There is nothing equally as satisfying yet saddening than finishing a good book. As I look around my world, I see fellow lovers of reading and others who have little or no interest in reading at all and this baffles me. This mystery has been slowly deciphered as PATINS’ staff work our way through the LETRS curriculum, along with several social media groups and podcasts dedicated to the science of reading. Through each I am reminded that our brains have not evolved to naturally develop reading like our brains pick up the spoken language. According to the US Department of Education, most children aren’t reading until the age of seven. While speech development can be heard in the babbles of babies shortly after birth according to The Journal of Child Language

I have blocked out my own reading preparation and the challenges that I faced in a curriculum of guessing and memorization. I forget that I myself struggled with reading early on and that I still have a mini panic attack when I need to read out loud (also when I read aloud for blog recordings). Those panicked moments bring flashbacks to sentence counting, so that I could practice the words that I would be called upon to stumble over in front of a class full of excellent readers. Every now and then I come across a word that I do not recognize and I stop, pronounce each letter, and my usual response is “huh, so that’s how you spell that.” Since working at PATINS these personal experiences and the knowledge that I have gained through professional development, including the LETRS training, have enriched consultations and webinars. One of those sessions is coming up on March 30th as we discuss the overlapping literacy strategies used for English Language Learners and students with Specific Learning Disabilities.
 
Over the past few months my daughter, who is nearing the end of kindergarten, has been going through this learning process. And although she is learning through methods fueled by the science of reading, she still has to force her mind to practice and focus on rewiring itself for comprehension of the letters on the page. Frustrations can result in books flying through the air or a stalemate when it is time for bedtime reading or doing homework. 

So how did I develop the love of reading that I have now? I remember my mother sitting with a book in her hand at the kitchen table, on the sofa, in the car, at my volleyball practice, and basically any free second in her day. She read book after book, sometimes not able to put them down until she was finished. I was drawn into her passion for reading. And she filled our lives with exposure to books. She took my siblings and I to our small local library to listen to storytime and let us pick out books to take home for her to read to us. As she read the books she replicated an imagined voice of the characters, showing excited energy for each word on the page. She took us to “The Big Library” which was a two story building in New Albany, IN. For a small town girl, this library was gigantic. She let us wander around freely choosing books and playing throughout the stacks and shelves, as she worked on research. I remember checking out materials that sparked my interest from “The Babysitters Club” to the latest issue of “Seventeen” magazine, even learning Spanish via cassette tapes. Being able to obtain information in a variety of different formats opened the door to the travels, tales, and tips that made me keep coming back.  

Valuable strategies to help students with developing reading skills, include phonemic My daughter sitting on a bench with legs crossed, holding a book in front of a wooden wall that looks like a bookshelf with books on it.awareness, vocabulary building, and comprehension. These strategies build the ability to read but do not necessarily create a love of reading. A love of reading is held in examples of others reading with their eyes and ears, of others sharing their reading experiences, of connecting stories and information to student’s interests, and allowing them to choose from and float around in the sea of reading options in the different formats including read-to-me, audio, parent/teacher/peer read alouds, ebooks, captions on videos, and physical books in large, small, and braille print.

Although I value my daughter’s development of reading skills, I also want her to love to read. So tonight as the stack of Bob books (a series of simple phonetic stories that we use for practicing reading) sit at my daughter’s bedside, I ignore them and the urge for me to rush her brain to learn all the strategies of reading. Instead, I let her dash excitedly to her bookshelf to find her favorite adventure for the evening. As I prep my character voices, we cuddle up and turn the pages to take us away to a castle or a pirate ship and I watch my daughter’s eyes light up with love.

Sources:

Oller, D. K., Wieman, L. A., Doyle, W. J., & Ross, C. (2008, September 26). Infant babbling and speech*: Journal of Child Language. Cambridge Core. 

Typical language accomplishments for children, birth to age 6 -- helping your child become a reader. (2005, December 15).


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May
13

"...regardless of the content we teach, we are all reading instructors."*

Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 217, a.k.a. Indiana's Dyslexia Law provides a strong backbone to reading instruction for Indiana schools. For instance, this bill provides that:

  • screening for dyslexia is to occur at grades K, 1, 2, 3 and after that as necessary, as instructed in the bill 
  • Schools are to use the Response to Intervention (RTI) tiers before identifying the reading deficit as dyslexia
  • Educators are to use an instructional approach that is explicit, direct, systematic, multisensory and phonetic
  • Every Indiana school corporation is to employ at least one (1) Reading Specialist trained for teaching students with dyslexia
Since we know from 100 years of research that 1 in 5 students have dyslexia, the one lone Reading Specialist is going to be very, very busy, particularly in very large districts. How can this be expected? What is the solution to this very tall, broad, and heavy order?

Teachers in all content areas must help fill gaps by embedding literacy in their instruction. Our students are not just learning to read, but learning to learn. All subject content areas require and will naturally accommodate literacy. Following are some thoughts on weaving intentional literacy into your content classes.

Since a textbook is not the only tool, a classroom library built around your content area can be a wonderful addition to learning. Think puzzles, games, models, art supplies, as well as books and worksheets. Math was always my worst subject. Every year I disliked the drab-looking textbook, the formidable-sounding units of study: Fractions. Multiplication. Division. I know I would have benefitted from The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang. Math strategies presented in rhyme? Yes, Please. 

But reading is not just about paper books. Plan to use as much technology as is appropriate and possible. PATINS Specialists can suggest, explain and demonstrate if you need help.

  • Ear-reading is an authentic reading experience. So is using closed captions while watching tv and online programs. Encourage every interaction with print to be what it is: time spent reading.
  • Provide extra everything: Space, time, patience.
  • Provide information verbally and visually, find multisensory methods for learning.
  • Grade on content, not on spelling or neatness. Don't use a red pen to grade papers, don't have students trade papers to grade in class.
  • Instead of returning assignments during class; use homework folders or another more discreet method.
  • Provide class notes, and/or announce that you are about to tell or show something important.
  • Allow keyboarding as well as handwritten assignments, not one or the other.
  • Ask for help to decipher written work, privately.
  • Identify strengths and call attention to those, not to deficits.
  • Some students will not require a structured, systematic approach to reading, or to learning algebra. It certainly will not be harmful and may enhance learning for them as well. If they don't need extra supports, they'll move on.
  • If a student shows 3 or more of these warning signs in your class, talk to the reading specialist, other teachers, principal, related service providers, parents and the student.
  • Relationships are the glue of instruction. Model and require acceptance, helpfulness, kindness, respect. This last point will make anyone's journey more rewarding and much easier.
Learn about helping students with dyslexia: 

Yale Center   International Dyslexia Association

Thanks so much!



* title quote: Rebecca Alber

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