Teaching with Speech

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The benefits made possible by speech tech in the educational setting can be invaluable to teachers and pupils alike. Take the perks of speech recognition alone; according to Canada’s Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium and Alberta Education, it can help students do the following:

• meet grade-level expectations and aid them in writing, including composing and editing;

• switch between speaking and typing as needed;

• augment legibility and written output;

• create written output that more aptly represents their actual oral language aptitudes;

• boost endurance and decrease fatigue by reducing writing by hand or keyboard; and

• improve pronunciation by providing a less stressful setting, especially for English language learners.

Amazingly, first graders averaged more than a 97 percent accuracy rate on post-study reading tests after using speech recognition tools, according to a 2018 study by the Missouri College of Education.

“Speech recognition technology is supportive of the learner because it allows them to use personally, culturally relevant grammar,” said Elizabeth Baker, professor of literacy studies in the Department of Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum at the Missouri College, in the study. “Children all have different backgrounds, and this technology allows them to learn to read while using their own frame of reference.”

Text-to-speech, meanwhile, can boost reading fluency, comprehension, and decoding and position children to independently perform better using appropriate grade-level tools and materials. And the ability to have their text spoken aloud on demand can generate crucial oral feedback that could help improve writing and composition.

“Leveraging text-to-speech tools helps students improve their grades and retain more information,” Muldoon says. “With 60 percent to 80 percent of students not disclosing their disability as they transition into post-secondary education, solutions like ReadSpeaker’s webReader and/or docReader help level the playing field for first-time online learners.”

Cindy Jiban, principal academic lead for NWEA, a research-based nonprofit that creates academic assessments for students, notes that speech tech is also improving early reading skill evaluation.

“The previous reading assessment practice in first- and second-grade classrooms was to have each student sit down with the teacher individually, one at a time, and read aloud,” she says, noting that these sessions typically took a week and rendered the teacher unavailable for actual teaching. “But now, particularly in the primary grades, oral reading assessment is rapidly shifting to capitalize on automatic speech scoring capabilities. Students read out loud into boom mics on headsets, making it feasible to capture and score individual readings. Today, the assessment takes half an hour total each season. And thanks to speech tech scoring, three weeks of reading instruction are saved.”

Supporting Those with Special Needs

Some students, of course, stand to reap greater speech tech benefits than others. These include the reading-challenged, those with difficulty putting their thoughts into text, those with dyslexia and attention disorders, IEP students who encounter hardship communicating, and the physically disabled.

“Imagine a student with a cleft palate or oral cancer using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to answer questions in class,” Curley says. “Picture a student with dexterity challenges using speech-to-text to answer homework or write essays. And ponder a student with auditory processing challenges who can listen to a story while following along with the text.”

Indeed, speech tech can bring a multitude of benefits to students with disabilities to ensure they have an equal education.

“Today’s text-to-speech tools read text out loud and may include features like page masking and highlighting tools to help students focus. Other features include a dictionary, diction and pronunciation guides, enlarged text, and dyslexia guides to help a wide variety of diverse students access and engage with the content,” Muldoon adds.

Sara Maria Hasbun, founder and managing director of Meridian Linguistics, a Hong Kong business that supplies speech technology companies with training data, seconds that sentiment.

“If a student is struggling to read because of dyslexia, low vision, or even blindness, they can at least keep up with the rest of their studies through text-to-speech functionalities,” she says. “Students who are deaf or hard of hearing, on the other hand, can benefit from speech-to-text technology. Lip reading is incredibly taxing, and the reality is that sign language interpreters are expensive and not always available. Speech technology can help fill that gap.”

Speech tech advancements can even help the more severely disabled—such as students with cerebral palsy, who might not be able to coordinate muscle movements—produce effective speech at the conversational level.

“Having access to an iPad with an app with eye-tracking technology, like Cognixion’s Speakprose, can increase her ability to formulate and produce sentence-level phrases,” Chan says. “The student can ask and answer questions in class and participate in activities that would be otherwise extremely difficult for her to physically execute.”

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