'' I want to communicate
my knowledge and
experience of the use of
TTS in the classroom...''
It is natural for the brain to control our breathing. It is natural for the brain to register pain. It is natural for the brain to learn speech – but it is not natural for the brain to learn to read.
When we learn to read, our brains must create new pathways, crisscrossing those naturally created. Moreover, these new ”reading paths” must be created before we are 10 years old, or there is a high probability that we will never be able to read well enough to complete an education. For some brains, it is easy to create these special pathways. For others, it is difficult. But whatever sort of brain you may have – the knowledge, the experience, and the opportunities that are stored in written language must be accessible to all.
In 1998, I was employed by a Danish school for young people (14-17 years old) with reading and writing difficulties. From day one, I was eager to employ all the tools of the trade to educate my students: to teach them phonemes, morphemes, reading training, motivation, and reading training again. My expectation was that students would get better, develop, and become capable of completing an education.
But I grew wiser. After a while, it dawned on me that students were not getting much out of my well-planned lessons, and it soon became clear to me that working with phonemes and decoding had very little effect. It was as if most students forgot what they had learned by the following day.
The students desperately wanted to learn to read, but they quickly lost interest in my teaching. They discovered that time after time I subjected them to the same lesson they had already had. The same boring, easy texts and the same weird sound rules that were impossible to distinguish or remember.
Gradually, as I grew to know the students, they opened up and told me about their lives and their different ways of coping. I learned that a great many of them lived in a parallel society in the sense that they could not participate in much of our communication. Therefore, they missed opportunities and a lot of information with the result that they often did not know or understand what was going on around them.
I decided to find another route to knowledge and communication and delved seriously into the use of computers and “Text-To-Speech” (TTS) programs. At that point, many people were worried about the advent of computers and digital learning tools. They feared that the students would never learn to read if they “cheated their way to reading” first – and I harbored this doubt as well for the first few years.
Fundamentally, reading has to do with getting information and understanding from a written text. So, if you want to read something you can’t decode, of course, you should use TTS – it’s just another way of reading.
I view the ability to read as a “tool”. This means that it is less important how you read as long as it is effective and you get the knowledge that is in the text.
With that said, I have to point out that I think that everyone who can learn to read relatively painlessly must learn to read. If you can read a text, a road sign, or a menu without the use of technology, everything is much easier. It is practical, and the information comes more quickly. Think of text-to-speech as a supplement to teaching, and let students use it to a greater or lesser degree as they need it.
I hope that I can communicate in this little book my knowledge and experience of the use of TTS in the classroom and inspire you to incorporate it into your teaching in a conscious and expedient way.
Everyone should have the opportunity to share in the knowledge and understanding locked in written language.