What are ways to teach students to use assistive technology effectively?
This is an interesting question that I have gotten a few times recently, especially thinking about students who are resistant. One of the nice things about using text-to-speech (TTS) and speech-to-text (STT) is that much more common place for all of us in these days of Siri, Alexa, Google Voice Typing, etc…
So let’s start with STT. Using your voice to put the words in written form. I would love to see every student being allowed to do this to decrease the stigma even more. It took a bit at my school, but when it became so commonplace for students and adults alike to be seen and heard using their voice at times to get thoughts and ideas down, it became routine. Not all our students need to use it, but we show them all its possibilities.
That being said, how do I get students started. First, the time needs to be taken to directly teach students how to use it, and make it fun! Walkthrough where to access it, play with the voice, play with the speed, and let them dictate fun things, silly things, whatever they want. I love doing this with writing classes and build into a few day lessons on creating books too (we use Pages). They work with various skills of learning how to publish their writing in fun ways and practice with dictation with a small project. The whole class does it together. Some will definitely rely on voice after that, and others will continue with typing, while others will use both depending on the task. Students are good at figuring out what helps them. On iOS devices, Siri is built-in and fantastic for dictation; it’s just that microphone icon on the keyboard. One key thing for students to understand if using an iPad, the microphone is not on the bottom like on the iPhone, but rather at the top and by the camera. Teach them to speak directly towards the mic for more accuracy, and if in a classroom, this helps so they can speak in a quieter voice and be more accurate. For the Chrome environment, Read and Write for Chrome extension is a robust tool that will give STT capability, but if all the other features are not needed, Google Voice Typing is a great. Microsoft also has dication built right into their software. So no matter the platform, STT/dication is available for all.
When it comes to listening to the text, again, it is a great feature to teach all learners. I use it regularly to listen to more extended writing at times to catch errors I miss with my eyes, and Grammarly doesn’t catch. Teaching students TTS is one of the things when I work with kids; they have some fun with playing with voices and speed. I usually teach this at the in the same lesson I mentioned above. They dictate and then I show them how to listen to it. We practice in isolation and in the fun book, making sure they get lots of repetition to feel more comfortable. On iOS devices, it needs to be turned on under settings. Settings —> Accessibility —> Spoken Content —> Turn on the top two features, Speak Selection (highlight text and now speak will appear in menu with cut, copy, etc..) and Speak Screen (two finger swipe down from the top reads the whole screen). The Speak Screen feature opens up a controller that now you can also turn on to be always there so the two finger swipe down is not needed. Speak Screen, if used on websites, is best if the website is in Reader view, for it reads EVERYTHING on the screen. For Chrome, this is where the Read and Write for Chrome also comes in handy, but for a free app, try SpeakIt. Microsoft has their Immersive Reader built throughout their paltform, and is a great TTS tool.
I think the best thing adults can do is model using these features regularly. When it became more of a regular occurrence by many in our school, it became the norm, not the exception. I find in my own daily life while I do not need these features, I rely on them in many instances for many reasons. Key take away is to introduce in a fun way!