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  • Writer's pictureJames Kieft

Reading fluency and literacy

In this month’s blog post as I did for the past two posts I’m going to carry on the following to topic being covered by Microsoft’s #TeamsEDUchat TweetMeet.

So this month I’m looking at tools related to Reading progress and literacy. Those of you who regularly follow my blog will know that I’m dyslexic. I typically don't enjoy reading as I find it hard work, thus very rarely read for pleasure, however over time there are a greater selection of tools that I use to have documents and web pages read to me.

As with a lot of dyslexics I struggle with strong contrast on a page such as black text on white background or white text on black background. I like to make use of overlays and a number of tools to make overlays available. For example Noverlay is an extension available within Google Chrome that can be found in the Chrome store. It allows users to add a colour tint over a page which is really useful just to help reduce the glare and what you’re reading. It offers a wide choice of tints, my preferred one being yellow.

The other option is to use something like Microsoft Immersive reader which again provides the option to alter the background colour as well as change the font type, size and spacing. But I will go over Microsoft immersive reader in more detail a bit later in this blog post.

The other option in place of an overlay is to have text read back to me, and this has to be my preferred option with reading tools having evolved and developed over the past couple of years.

So what is Immersive reader, well it’s a reading tool that will read words to you allowed off a web page or document. It also enables you as the reader to customise how much of the document you can view at once, choosing between a sentence or a paragraph so you can view just those words that you’re reading. For me who struggles to keep their place in a document that I am reading, that is a really useful feature. As mentioned previously you can also alter the spacing between words, the font style, size and background colour.

Finally, the other really useful feature within Immersive Reader is that you can choose the type of voice you want to listen whether it is male or female and from what country it is from, in addition you can also alter the speed of the reading. Voices are getting better and better all the time so that they now sound more natural which is really useful.

Well you may be thinking that is great James but my School or College doesn’t use Microsoft they use Google instead. Well there is no need to worry there is an alternative that is available. The most well-known and probably the best alternative to Immersive Reader is Speechify. it’s an extension that is available within Google Chrome and it does a similar sort of thing to Immersive Reader. Unfortunately it does not mirror all of the features of Immersive Reader. So you can’t change the look and feel of the page but it will read out the words on a page for you. There is however a whole stack of voices to choose from and it will highlight the words it is reading to you. Unfortunately with the free version you are restricted to 1500 words a day being read. If you need more you need to pay for a subscription. Despite this it is a useful addition and what’s really nice is it will read any webpage you bring you will see a play button displayed on email and social media sites. I like the little toolbar that pops up with the play options including the ability to change voices. You can also change languages, overall it is another great way of having text read back to you.

When it comes to developing students' reading skills, Microsoft have recently introduced a new assignment feature in Microsoft Teams called Reading progress the new feature enables the teacher to set specific paragraphs of text for the student to read, which they are doing that it records there progress to allow the teacher to provide feedback on any mispronunciations or missed words. I will have a video on that coming out soon.

One of the key things when it comes to reading is that students need to regonise and understand specialist terminology and phrases related to the topic that they are studying. One of ways you can do this is to create a glossary of terms in OneNote and add new words as they are introduced as part of the syllabus.

The other way I have seen of introducing students to new vocabulary such as the names of tools that they require to use as part of the course. Is to create an automatic rotating presentation in PowerPoint that is displayed in the classroom or workshop when the students are working or as they arrive. The presentation shows a picture of the object and its name so the students start to get familiar with the spelling of the look of the word.

Thanks for reading this post, please do consider checking out some of my other blog posts, some of which focus on specific tools and others on broader themes linked to Teaching and learning.

If you’ve got a particular approach you use to support your students in developing their reading and literacy skills then please do leave a comment.

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