Using Text To Speech Technology To Assist Dyslexic Students

Davis Graham wanted to participate. His teachers could not understand why he was so resistant to learning. He almost completely gave up on his education. Mr. Graham, a life-long dyslexia advocate, has dyslexia and he was not alone. Eighty percent of children who have a learning disability are also impacted by dyslexia. This is a staggering number of students.

With technology we can tackle some of the challenges facing these students. Even changing how we view these differences.

I asked a friend of mine, Tony Wright, who has two children with dyslexia, what he would change in the world of education. He said we need a change in perception because, “In a perfect world, my children’s learning differences would be accepted as differences, not disabilities. Their peers would understand that they think differently. That they are not inferior. Also, they would be able to be accommodated without disruption to their day. Of course, they have a father who loves reading. I want my kids to enjoy reading. In a perfect world, my kids would be just able to be normal kids and given the chance to excel and succeed in whatever their talent is. I think that’s what most parents want as well.”

With increased early screening we could identify more children who struggle with dyslexia. Early screening could provide a pathway to learning with Text to Speech technology (TTS) and could even lead to a decrease in our total IEP costs. TTS in schools creates an excellent opportunity for a huge impact in schools with very limited budgets.

With regard to how we view reading and writing in education, Mr. Graham points out, “It’s a crossroads. [We should] say look, you can dictate it with speech to text or you can consume it by text to speech or the reading acceleration program.”

The point is the challenges caused by dyslexia in reading and writing can be alleviated. Cost savings for IEPs would be realized in both the short and long-term. Providing students access to TTS technology is the most efficient solution in solving reading challenges that dyslexic students face. In the long-run, districts will see improved comprehension and less frustrating outbursts from students. Very often we see a decrease in the need for assistance from teachers and better test scores often follow. All of these elements combined lead to a positive net impact on students, teachers and schools with limited budgets.

“In the Education delivery system, text to speech will level the hurdles of the printed word in any language, providing a level playing field for all students,” says Mr. Graham.

Despite being severely dyslexic, Mr. Graham went on to receive his Master of Science in Health and Medical Informatics from Brandeis University. When he was diagnosed with dyslexia in the late 60’s, his road to achieving educational success was a long, winding path. With support from many educators along the way, he became passionate about providing access to various content for those who also suffer with dyslexia. Mr. Graham found Bookshare, an ebook library, and began listening to volumes of books converted from a written format to an audio format. This is a life changing experience for someone willing to learn, but who lacks the ability to just sit down and read. Enter the mobile age and the explosion of access to content for those with dyslexia, and we begin to see innovative solutions in solving learning disabilities.

Along with internet access and either a mobile device or tablet, any student with dyslexia can access TTS technology. TTS is not new, but it is dramatically improved over the years.

The increase in processing speed and decrease in costs over time, has allowed for dramatic improvements to TTS technology. Now with programs like Dragon Dictate or Google’s, students can speak into a microphone, or use a dictation feature to “write” papers or take tests.

The problem goes beyond just improving grades

Research by Jean Cheng Gorman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who studied youth suicides in 1998, found a staggering 50% of students who unfortunately end their lives have a learning disability, and 40% suffer from dyslexia. There is yet to be a research study showing TTS technology having a causal impact on decreasing suicide. However, helping alleviate barriers to knowledge, while decreasing frustration with learning, will have a positive impact on all student’s lives.

Beyond cost savings, the significance in learning to each student is tremendous. As a child, I personally was slow to read, but I don’t remember when I suddenly “learned” how to read. The act of reading is so automatic for most people, that it is hard for most people to imagine what it would be like to lack the ability to read. Providing solutions to these problems can help make some students feel empowered to learn again. TTS can change the lives of those students who need help with managing dyslexia.


Jabez LeBret is Chief of Schools at Sisu Academy, the first tuition-free private boarding high school in California. Cofounder of two companies he is also a regular Millennial Management speaker.

Jabez is embarking on a mission to change the lives of local high school students by opening the first tuition-free boarding high school with a self-funding model in Cal…

Source: Using Text To Speech Technology To Assist Dyslexic Students


How Powerful Use of Technology Can Increase Student Engagement – Digital Promise

Rather than taking a traditional multiple choice test at the end of their unit on weather, sixth grade students at Gilbert Middle School in South Carolina created their own live weather reports—complete with green screens and fake snow. Down the hall, seventh graders used digital tools to design memes based on quotes from a novel in their English/language arts class……..

Source: How Powerful Use of Technology Can Increase Student Engagement – Digital Promise

Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making – Alice Baggett


The most important thing you can do to set up your tinkering space for primary students has nothing to do with the space. Of course you’ll need space for your students to work in, but the physical space for tinkering matters much less than the mental space that you create for young makers.

To be effective tinkerers, students need to achieve a state of mind in which they are primed to play and make joyful discoveries.Young kids who are playing don’t worry about making mistakes. They’re just playing, and the idea that they could make a mistake—that there’s a wrong way to play—doesn’t enter into their consciousness. It’s this freedom that enables the creation of elaborate pretend games and castles built from playground bits. Replicating a sense of play in the classroom is vital to creating a tinkering mindset for children.

One of the most powerful things you can do to set the philosophical tone in your makerspace is to hammer home the idea that taking risks, trying new things, and making mistakes are not only acceptable actions—they’re desirable actions. That’s what you’re hoping for! But telling a group of little kids that it’s okay to make mistakes is not an effective way to deliver your message.

The droning voice of the teachers in the Peanuts cartoons springs to mind! To get kids to internalize your message and truly take it to heart, you have to show them in a wide variety of ways what you really mean.

Here are some ideas for getting across the idea that taking risks, trying new things, and making mistakes are desirable outcomes.


There are lots of good children’s books about mistake making. My absolute favorite is Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops. This short book features mistakes repackaged as something awesome! For example, a torn piece of paper becomes the smile on an alligator. Young children respond to the simplicity of the “mistakes” and the delightful revelation of the reworked mistake into something beautiful and surprising. This book is a wonderful jumping-off point for a bigger discussion about how to handle mistakes and how mistakes can lead us in new, inspiring directions.

I read this story to each of my classes at the beginning of every year, and kids ask to hear it again and again. A few weeks after I read it to a kindergarten class one year, we were working on a challenge in which students were using graphic design tools to draw on a photograph of their faces. One student carefully tried to trace his eye so he could use the paint bucket to fill the shape. He hadn’t quite managed to draw a closed shape around his eye, though, so the paint spilled all over the photograph completely covering his face. Watching from across the room, I braced myself. Sometimes students are distraught when things like this happen. Would there be tears?

This student straightened up in his chair and blurted out, “I made a beautiful oops! I know how to turn my whole page white!” The other kindergartners jumped out of their seats to come have a look at this marvelous discovery. They all wanted to know exactly how he did it so they could go try it out.

Of course, students do not always react to their mistakes this way. However, I have found that deliberately creating a climate where risk taking and mistake making are valued makes a notable difference in the way students handle mistakes.

Frequently reading stories about risk taking, failure, recovery from failure, and mistake making goes a long way toward assuring students that you actually believe in the learning that comes when students make and recover from errors. Check the list of excellent story ideas in chapter 8 for more suggestions.

A graphic showing how play and purpose lead to outcomes when tinkering in class.


Modeling that it really is okay to make mistakes is vital. Fortunately for most of us working in a budding makerspace with young tinkerers, there are many opportunities to publicly fail in front of students. There is so much to know and things change so quickly. Technology’s unpredictability benefits us in this instance! When I’m teaching a lesson and my projector malfunctions, the demonstration program I wrote does not even begin to do what I had hoped it would, or my robot goes backward instead of forward, I take it as an opportunity to model resilience and grit. I let students see me flustered and then (hopefully) recovering. I invite them to help me diagnose what went wrong, which they LOVE.

Taking public risks and making public mistakes not only helps normalize mistake making, it inspires enthusiasm for collectively problem-solving and collaborating. All of this is a desirable part of the philosophical underpinnings of a tinkering mindset. If you are the kind of educator who rarely makes a mistake, you can strategically plan to make errors for students to catch. These preplanned mistakes can still help students see you as a real person who actually makes mistakes and recovers from them


Posting quotations about or pictures of mistakes can go a long way toward reminding kids that you’re serious about the value of mistakes. I have James Joyce’s quote “Mistakes are the portals to discovery” displayed in huge letters on my classroom walls, and at the beginning of each year we have a discussion about exactly what the students think that quote means. At each workstation in my room I have a little sign stating, “Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. Mistakes are normal and we learn from them.”

At an art fair, I purchased a colorful print emblazoned with the phrase “Mistakes Make.” It seems like the artist accidentally got the words in the wrong order. Kids think it’s hilarious! I have a picture of my face posted in a prominent place in my classroom encircled by the words, “Ms. Baggett: Proud Mistake Maker Since 1966.” I have a series of posters I made of silhouettes of heads with famous people’s quotes about mistakes. The visual materials in my room affirm that I mean what I say about the value of making mistakes.

I start my year by having the kids do a scavenger hunt to become familiar with the room. One of the items they are supposed to search for is something that lets you know it’s okay to make a mistake. One year, as the kids were searching for all the items, I heard one girl say, “There are so many things in this room that let you know it’s okay to make a mistake, but I can’t find the specific one for the stupid scavenger hunt!”


To further develop the idea that risk taking and mistake making can lead to something positive, I created an Epic Fails and Spectacular Discoveries bulletin board in my room. I wanted to create a place for students to share their highest highs and their lowest lows, the idea being that the more kids talk openly and honestly about their successes and failures, the more normalized the idea that we all have highs and lows when we’re problem-solving becomes.

Students who want to participate can fill out a slip of paper (or ask me to fill it out if they’re still learning to write) that asks them what their epic fail or spectacular discovery was, how they happened upon it, and what about it made it an epic fail or spectacular discovery. Then they post their slips on a bulletin board so that other students can read them. Kids love reading what other kids have to say, and I often have to encourage them to go back to working on their projects instead of spending all their time reading the board.

One year after I finished introducing this idea to my students for the first time, a little hand shot up with a question. “But Ms. Baggett,” the boy said, puzzled, “how do you tell the difference between an epic fail and a spectacular discovery?”

I adore this question! It gets at the fundamental nature of process -based, inquiry learning. Failure and discovery are so closely linked, so connected and interrelated, that it is very hard to distinguish between them, especially when failure leads directly to discovery and vice versa.


I have all sorts of old projects lying around my room. Students love to look at them, but they also find them intimidating because most of the projects are physical objects in a final state. They look perfect and finished.  Students have a hard time envisioning the steps that led up to the final object’s creation: all they see is the incredibly cool final iteration.

To help students understand the messy process of creation, I ask students to track their progress during any project (much more about this in chapter 6). Tracking a project’s progress helps illuminate the many mistakes along the way. Students looking at old projects can look up the reflection and documentation fellow students did on a given challenge to get a fuller picture of what happened along the way.

It’s fun to see how many challenges a student has to overcome to complete a project. Students have the chance to internalize the idea that continuing to work even when a seemingly insurmountable obstacle presents itself is vital to learning and growing.


Kids enjoy sharing what is happening with their work on a project, and it’s great for other students to hear their peers talking about all the different challenges and successes they’ve experienced. Peer-to-peer sharing also opens the door for collaboration and collective problem-solving when a student is unsure of how to move past an obstacle.

I regularly invite students to teach their classmates. Students address their peers, explaining and demonstrating their mistakes and discoveries. It is not unusual for them to have so much to say that I must gently help them wrap things up. Talking about the messy process of making is thrilling to students, who although they cannot always recognize why this appeals to them, appreciate the focus on their learning process instead of their final product.

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