Answered by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
Although some research (MacArthur, 2013) has shown that the use of text-to-speech technology improves the performance of students with reading difficulties, this method should not be the first one considered or may not be good for everyone. Here are a few ideas for strategies and tools that could be useful for readers with learning disabilities.
Direct instruction of reading strategies is essential for all students with reading difficulties. Whatever the learning disability, using these strategies will maximize the interaction between the reader and the text, help in the detection of sensory issues, and increases retention. The following article explains how to teach strategies to be used BEFORE, DURING and AFTER reading.
For students who require visual-attention support
Some students inadvertently skip lines or re-read them, track words closely with their finger, report that they have a headache after a reading task or say that the letters jump around on the page.
Educators can help them by choosing certain formatting parameters when creating text:
- First, ensure that the text is not justified (i.e. the lines of text end in different places instead of being aligned with the margins). This helps students identify words on the page and avoid re-reading or skipping lines.
- Text settings that increase letter size and spacing between lines and ensure separation of paragraphs mean students won’t see letters touching and allows for enough space to use reading strategies.
- The use of some of the “cleaner” fonts (e.g. sans serif or thicker fonts) reduces the risk of visual confusion. For example, Comic sans MS and Open Dyslexic fonts meet this criteria.
- Another suggestion is to print on light-coloured paper so that there is less contrast than on white paper; this helps photosensitive students feel more comfortable reading.
Students can also use a reading ruler. This tool helps them manage their visual-attention span with more focus than finger tracking. It is discreet and easily slides into a pencil case or agenda sleeve. Several models are available, in page or novel format, and with or without a base colour to reduce contrast.
For students who require phonological support
The use of a tube to amplify the voice enables children to hear themselves and regulate their reading while in the classroom without distracting classmates. Even though it is not as discreet, it is nevertheless a very good tool to try before attempting the use of text-to-speech in that it encourages students to question the accuracy of the words they have read. Some models come with a headband while others are handheld, although these can make text annotation more difficult.
MacArthur, C. A. (2013). Technology Applications for Improving Literacy: A Review of Research. Handbook of learning disabilities. H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris and S. Graham. New York, Guilford Press.
Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger is the French Learning Disabilities Consultant of the LD@school team. She is completing a Masters degree in education science at the University of Quebec at Rimouski. She holds a bachelor degree in special education from the same university and a certificate in ICT integration in education (TELUQ). She is also a sessional instructor for the integration of ICT in education at the UQAR. Her current position is special teacher at the Charlesbourg Public Secondary School where she enjoys working with teenagers and a diversity of learning difficulties. Nathalie is glad to bring her contribution and expertise to the LD@school team and to network with teachers sharing the same passion for the success of students with learning disabilities.