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Can Audio and/or Digital Books Make a Difference in Learning Outcomes? Part II

Digital Books - Learning OutcomesIn Part I of our article, "Can Audio and/or Digital Books Make a Difference in Your Child’s Learning Outcomes - Part l," we learned about AIM, the acronym for accessible instruction materials and that more printed texts (e.g., books, literature, novels, K-12 textbooks) are now available in high-quality audio and/or digital files for academic instruction and pleasure reading. We know of two national nonprofit organizations — Bookshare and Learning Ally — that provide thousands of titles in accessible formats, and that U.S. public schools, by law (IDEA 2004), are required to provide timely access to AIM for students who qualify.

In Part II, we’ll learn about the benefits of reading technologies that may help your child enjoy a multisensory reading experience that will lead to reaching their true learning potential.

Features and Benefits of Reading Technologies with Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Today, there is research* to suggest that students with learning disabilities (LD) can read with better comprehension and fluency skills using digital or audio formats with the right reading technologies. The experience of hearing content read aloud through text-to-speech or TTS (i.e., seeing words and sentences highlighted on a computer screen or portable device) is referred to as “multimodal” or “multisensory” reading.

In today’s digital education environment, where learning can happen anywhere — in a classroom, home, or on the go — there are several quality reading assistive technology programs to support children with learning and print disabilities. These include Kurzweil 3000 by Cambium, Read Write Gold by TextHelp and Read:OutLoud by Don Johnston. There are portable devices (e-readers) such as the iPad that can read digital formats with apps like Read2Go, created by Bookshare for members to download and read digital books from the online library to Apple devices. Through digital text, users can navigate by paragraph, page, chapter, or table of contents and manipulate settings and preferences such as:

  • background displays
  • font size and color hypertext links
  • selection of male and female voices
  • rate of speech
  • read aloud on/off function
  • bookmarking

Some software and portables may have built-in scanners, graphic organizers, note taking tools for essays, writing outline support, bibliographers, dictionaries, spell checkers, and keyword search features. Some may have voice recording or voice recognition and options to hear text read aloud in Spanish or other languages using Acapela Voices — a good option for English language learners.

One note is that there are still limitations to full accessibility of digital formats today. Not all images can be accurately described through text-to-speech, such as graphs, charts, and mathematical concepts. A new web application tool called POET, created by the DIAGRAM Center at Benetech, the parent organization of Bookshare, shows great progress. POET is an open source resource that makes it easier to create image descriptions for DAISY books and allows crowd sourcing of image descriptions.

New Ways to Learn and Receive Knowledge

Research on text-to-speech as an effective way to teach reading is well documented since the National Reading Panel Report of 2000 identified three key elements of effective reading instruction:

  • alphabet (phonemic awareness and phonics),
  • fluency and comprehension (vocabulary, text comprehension, and
  • comprehension strategies

In our quest to ensure that more students with LD and print disabilities receive full access to AIM, we asked teachers and school assistive technology specialists to share their thoughts about the benefits of digital books and technologies. Here are their top 15 responses. Maybe one or several points will catch your eye to start a new conversation with more parents and teachers:

  1. Opens a world of new learning possibilities
  2. No more scanning
  3. Provides flexible options based on learning styles and preferences
  4. Promotes independence, socialization, and personal achievement
  5. Unlocks decoding struggles
  6. Holds a reader’s attention span longer
  7. Ensures readability on grade level
  8. Encourages note taking and annotations
  9. Corrects spelling
  10. Improves vocabulary
  11. Suggests proper grammar
  12. Helps a reader to express meaning
  13. Delivers consistency in format and context
  14. Levels the learning field
  15. Enables teachers to deliver individual instruction as in Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
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