This post first appeared on Diversa – an initiative from the Rodrigo Mendes Institute.

Imagine the impact if a student could play back the directions for an assessment rather than wait for the teacher to repeat them. Consider the potential for a student to be able to leverage resources above their reading level simply because they can hear the text rather than struggle to read it. With a few simple changes, a student’s entire learning experience could be transformed.

Separating Comprehension from Decoding

Some students, particularly those with language-based learning disorders, may be able to comprehend text but not decode it. For them, text is the problem – not learning. However, with text-to-speech, students can focus on comprehension without the challenge of decoding because the device can do the latter.

By encouraging students to interact with written content on mobile devices, we begin removing many of the restrictions previously placed upon their learning environment. Through the technology, students no longer need to rely on teachers, parents, or peers to decode content – subsequently allowing them to take more ownership of their own learning process.

Text-to-Speech Tools

The video below demonstrates Speak Selection on iPad.

Removing the Barriers to Output

Think about students who struggle with output. These students might orally express themselves beautifully; however, put a pen in their hand, or stick them in front of a keyboard, and NOTHING came out. The physical nature of excising words onto a page-layout stifles these students. With mobile devices, we remove the limiting factor by allowing students to talk through their ideas and then use that information to formulate the desired outputs.

Speech-to-text used to be an anomaly (or at least really expensive). However, a number of tools now make it extremely accessible for students. What if, instead of asking students to construct their thoughts through writing or typing, we allowed them to leverage speech-to-text tools as an option for having type appear on screen – bypassing the mechanical challenge of putting words on a page.

Speech-to-Text Tools
  • Siri – Apple’s intelligent assistant
  • Dragon Dictation – the iOS and Android apps are FREE
  • Voice Recognition – Chrome app that converts speech directly into text and then saves to Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or your computer. It also recognizes multiple languages.

Similarly, audio recording provides another avenue to support students with output challenges. Practically every mobile device comes with a microphone, allowing students to quickly capture their ideas, play them back, and then use those recordings as a form of audio notes. By incorporating audio, students focus on idea generation without the added challenge of generating text on a page or screen.

Audio Recording Tools

Teachers could also use these tools to provide audio feedback as well as audio support to students.

It’s the Little Things

Sometimes, the smallest changes can have the largest impact – particularly when trying to reach a diverse student population. With technology, we tend to think about large projects, massive curricular overhauls, and the need to transform learning. While these are noble endeavors, it may be the adaptive nature of technology, and mobile devices in particular, that has the greatest impact on student learning.

Beth Holland will be presenting this topic at the July 28-30 EdTechTeacher Summit as well as leading a hands-on workshop, Leveraging Technology to Create a Least Restrictive Environment, in Cambridge, MA (July 24-25).