New Found Tools for OCR with Auditory Feedback and Phonetic Word Prediction (FREE)

Microsoft OCR with Immersed Reading

office-lens-iconIn a bid to continue supporting struggling student, Microsoft has introduced OCR functionality with the added benefit of Text to Speech (TTS) to its document scanning app, Office Lens . Office Lens works in tandem with your other Microsoft apps and requires an account. At this time, users do not need a Microsoft 365 subscription and can use a free outlook.com account.

The scanning app is straightforward to use and provides options to scan a business card, photo, document, or whiteboard.  Automatic page detection is available however the user still needs to press the camera button to capture the image.  The next step is to select the “Immersive Reader” option. The app will then OCR (Object Character Recognize) the image and produce a screen with the text extracted from the image.

Some standout features of this app include its simple user interface and the option for “Wide Text Spacing” which increases the line spacing for easier reading.  TTS is easily activated through the play button and reading speed is adjusted through a slider in the toolbar.  While reading, the screen is grayed out while the word being read is highlighted. This allows for easier scanning and reading. On tried scanning, the OCR accuracy proved significantly accurate.

Drawbacks of the app include limited ability to modify the font style and color options. Additionally, navigating through the text is a bit cumbersome. Original formatting of the document is removed from the scan which might be disorienting to readers.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Phonetic Word Prediction Using Google Input Tool

Word prediction has become a commonly available tool on current mobile devices used to increase typing speed using the onscreen keyboard. This functionally, however, has been used by students with dyslexia for many years especially using flexible spelling or phonetic spelling predictors. Most operating system and mass market word prediction rely on the context of the writing versus phonetic spelling patterns and often do not support students with significant dyslexia.

Google’s  Input Tool is both a setting and a Chrome extension that helps support this spelling pattern. The traditional use of this tool is for keyboarding in multiple languages with transliteration available for some languages. This support, for example, allows a Hebrew writer to keyboard “shalom” using the roman keyboard while the Input Tool will then translate the entry to “שלןם”. This same support can be used while writing in English within Google Drive apps.

To activate this support:

  • Visit: My Account- Input Tools
  • Click “Select Languages”
  • Select English from the checkbox menu and save the settings
  • To test: open a Google Doc, upon loading you should see “En” icon at the end of the toolbar to the right of the “Tx” icon. Select the suggestion icon.
  • When typing, you should begin to see a suggested word list that follows the cursor and adapts to the letters being written.
  • To enter the desired word, either click on the word or enter the corresponding number.

The accuracy of this support for phonetic spelling has been  fairly accurate for longer words.  It falters however for homophones or shorter words. These, however, can often be corrected by Google Doc’s built-in spelling and grammar checker.

There is a bit of a lag between when the tool is enabled and the time it shows up within the Google Apps. An additional workaround to try is adding an additional language and then removing it once the tool is available.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Chrome as Assistive Tech Infographic

The variety of web apps and Chrome extensions has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Many of these tools are available to students either for free or offer lower cost alternatives to what traditionally was considered cost prohibitive support. I complied a Coggle infographic to organize  some of the apps, extensions, and add-ons I use most frequently to support my students. Know of a good tool that’s not on the list? Be sure to comment.

As a side bar… most of these tools require a working internet connection. This on its own is prohibitive for many families. Everyone On (everyoneon.org)  is an organization that works in low income communities and schools to provide a router and affordable internet connection for household that qualify.
https://embed.coggle.it/diagram/56aeb2334f77943445e639df/44a4c419ece1f77b3e76a86fe3e5c7102ae75e859bcc15d3c720a0d5aa68e81e

Speech to Text and Word Bank Writing: Google Doc Add-Ons



Add- ons are a great feature of Google Doc. They provide additional functionality through a side bar beside the document. To find and install add ons, navigate to the Add- ons dropdown menu and select Get add ons… On a recent look around I ran into two new add- ons to help support writing.

Speech Recognition

After installing the add-ons be sure to provide permissions to the microphone and press start. You can select which language to dictate in. Speech recognition works similarly to other dictation supports in accepting voice commands for periods, commas, etc. Giving it a test run, I must say I was impressed by the accuracy of the dictation. I also gave it a try in Spanish with some good results.
Check it out in action:

Keywords

This add on allows a teacher to create a word bank with definitions which can be viewed to the side of the document. Using word clouds or word banks are a great way to guide reluctant writers and provide visual and memory supports for what should be included in the document.
Here is a short demo video of how Keyword works:

Two Great Timeline Web Apps

Timelines are a great and easy way to visually represent information in bite size chunks. As an example, timelines can help support struggling readers in understanding the sequence of events in a book.

Ginko App is a note taking app that uses markup for writing but can also be used to construct timelines and off shoots to the timeline. Its clean user interface makes it easy to understand and navigate through cards. As an example, here is a gingko I had started to scroll and navigate through the Common Core State Standards for ELA elementary schools.

Gingko layout for ELA CCSS

Gingko’s can either be private or public. There is a limit to how many you create for free with additional files created with a monthly membership fee (currently $4.99/ month).

Hstry is a great free tool that allows teachers to create interactive timelines. They have a user friendly tutorial that guides teachers through adding content. Timelines created are public and can be shared with others. A teacher can embed images, videos, and audio throughout the timeline. Interactive features include quizzes and feedback. Teacher accounts can create classes and add students as well as assign timelines for students.

In short, check out these tools in helping support student understanding of complex topics using a visual and interactive perspective.

Reading Vision Supports Using Chrome Extensions

The benefits to using Chrome as a browser are all the add-ons and extensions that are easy to download from the Chrome Webstore.

Color Supports

Beeline Reader is an extension that converts the text into flowing colors to increase the speed of eye tracking while reading. This also helps decrease the frequency of skipped lines which affects overall reading fluency and comprehension.

Speed Readers

These tool are used to increased reading speed but having one word presented on the screen at a time also limits the need for eye movements called saccades when reading. Some students struggle with the mechanics of moving their eyes across a page and tend to skip words or lines that affect overall comprehension.

Sprint Reader is an extension that allows a student to select text from an article or webpage and present each word individually on the screen. There are many font, sizing, and color modifications to customize the presentation. Also keyboard shortcuts can quickly stop, rewind, or modify speed as you are reading.

Spreed is another speed reading extension with similar features that allow customization of font, sizing, and speed. The benefit to this extension is that these customization options are available on the same screen as the words presented.

Text to Speech

Speak It is an extension that once installed allows the student to select text and have this text read back. The voice is a bit synthesized and does depend on the internet speed connection to function smoothly.
Select and Speak is another extension that provides text to speech supports. 

Font Modification

Clearly is one of my favorite extensions from the makers of Evernote. The extension clears away the ads and presents the text from the article in a clear and simple presentation. Users can customize the fonts spacing, sizing, and color scheme as well as highlight salient details. The article can then be clipped directly into your Evernote account. Premium subscribers can also have the text read back to them with word highlighting!

OpenDyslexic is an extension that converts most fonts presented on a webpage to the Open Dyslexic font. This font was created with attention to each letter to limit “b” and “d” confusion and draw the eye to the bottom of the line.

Summer Project: My Metryx

My Metryx

This is a great tool for teachers to keep track of their students data and help “see” what their classroom looks like. There are many customizable features and you can make your data as precise as you need it. 
To start, you will create an account and start with a class. You can then add grades and add students to those grades or add individual students. This is great middle and high school teachers or cluster subject teachers who have multiple classes.
Next, you add your assessments. The hierarchy starts with the Subject > Skillsets > Skills. As an example you can open a Subject for ELA > Skillset for Reading (Running Records) > Skills of fluency, decoding and so on.
Now you can put all this information together and set up parameters for which students will be assessed for what skills. Outcomes can be rated on a yes/ no mode, rubric mode, or data entry mode. 
After assessing your students, you have the options of looking at individual student reports or view how your class is doing on particular skills. The reports are visually friendly turning your data into user friendly pie charts and line graphs for progress over time. Metryx will even help split up your class, either creating either equal groups or RTI groups based on the scoring data. 
Here is a link to a short video tutorial for the visual learners in the bunch: http://vimeo.com/57808886

Why Doesn’t Starfall work on my iPad?

So you have your iPad and ready to use it in the classroom. Finally, your students will have the chance to practice their reading at their desks only to find that your favorite sites don’t work on the iPad!

Why? Many sites use Flash animations to work their games and interactive books. Popular iOS browsers such as Safari do support this type of program and there for the content will be viewable on your iPad. Some sites have started making apps that match the content on their web browsers but there is another way…

Try downloading Puffin. This is a free iOS web browser that will play Flash content.

Know any other browsers to recommend? Share in the comments section below!

Review: Adobe Voice

Adobe has recently release its own story telling app. Although there are many in the app store this one offers a few unique benefits for teachers and students. Following the Universal Design for Learning model, using Voice can help provide students with a means of expression.

Voice follows a familiar “slide” format however it has pre- made templates for the following: Promote an Idea, Tell What Happened, Explain Something, Follow a Hero’s Journey, Show and Tell, Share a Growth Moment, Teach a Lesson, Share an Invitation, or Make Up My Own. Each template comes with a range of slides (5-8) that asks the user to answer a particular question on that slide. This is great for students who just don’t know where to start and what to say.

Within each template, students may add icons (provided by The Noun Project), photos, and text (No video). They are then able to record audio narration that follows the visual support. Once all the slides are built, the presentation can be customized by themes and background music can be added to run throughout. The great benefit of this app is that it provides rich variety of content within it. When adding photos, a student may search and Voice will only provide images tagged as having a Creative Commons License.

Once you are ready to publish, the project can either be public or private and all attributions are inserted automatically. This is a great pro for this app in getting users to give credit where credit is due.

Understood.org- A Site for Teachers, Parents and Students Affected by Learning Disabilities

One of the reasons I am so invested in the use of technology in the schools in exactly for the benefit it offers students with learning disabilities. There are many students sitting in classrooms all over the world right now struggling to fit themselves into the box. Technology opens the doors for students to better access what they need to know and also show their teachers and the world what they have learned.

This is one reason why I am so excited to hear about the launch of Understood.org in August 2014. This site is a partnership among multiple organizations helping students with learning disabilities and will be clearinghouse for resources, support groups, and events. The feature I am most looking forward to will be examples of just what the world looks like for students with learning disabilities when they read, write, and compute.

Stay tuned for updates…

Vox- Understand the News

From the makers of The Verge and Curbed a new venture in news: Vox. The mission of this site is to provide background knowledge and explain current new and events. Could this become a great classroom tool to help students understand current events? Stay tuned for updates when the site launches.

Update: Vox is up and running with a variety of articles, timelines, and card stacks that explain the history and background information for some of the current events. Check out this stack on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Two more explanatory journalism sites were also recently released:

The New York Times launched The Upshot with emphasis on data analysis and infographics.

FiveThirtyEight brought to you by the all knowing Nate Silver is also heavy on answering your burning questions like: “Do April Showers Bring May Flowers?”- using data, data, data.