Saturday, February 22, 2014
@Voice Aloud Reader
This is a short review of the Android app @Voice Aloud Reader (VAR). VAR is a great tool for reading webpages and news articles aloud. When looking at a webpage or a news article on Zite, you can transfer the text to VAR to be read aloud. But let's look at how to set up VAR.
After installing VAR you will be presented a series of controls at the bottom of a page of text. There is an arrow button to start and stop reading. A left and right arrow to advance or backup the text being read. Then there is a little up arrow. This up arrow brings some significant controls. There are three sliders to adjust the the rate of the read aloud, the pitch and the volume of the voice. The best part of these sliders is that you can set the reading speed exactly to your preferences.
When you are at a webpage or in an app and you wish to read something, you look for the share page icon. On most Android devices and on the Kindle Fire this icon looks like three dots forming an arrowhead. Tap the arrowhead and you will be presented with the choice of sharing the page with VAR. Once selected the main article will be extracted into VAR. Once there the article will be read aloud. Sentences are highlighted as they are read. For easy reading VAR has both a day and night mode. I prefer to read with night time mode (see the picture). This is so slick and quick that choosing to read things aloud is very natural and a breeze.
If the print is too small for you simply make a small swipe down with your finger. This will bring up a line with a plus or minus magnifying lens. Tap on the plus or minus sign to adjust font size. You can also start reading at any particular point by double tapping with one finger. Additionally if you open VAR settings, you can choose to follow what has been copied to the clipboard. In this manner you can read any text that can be highlighted and copied. This is helpful for reading email aloud. To sun up VAR is simple and easy to use. It makes reading items aloud a quick and seamless process. Best of all @Voice Aloud Reader is free in either the Google Play Store or the Amazon App Store. @Voice Aloud Reader works with both Android tablets and the Kindle Fire.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Darwin Reader is an Android app for reading Bookshare e-books. So first let me briefly explain what Bookshare and print disabilities are. Bookshare is a digital library for individuals the print disabilities. A print disability means you cannot use regular printed materials for reading. Examples of print disabilities are blindness or dyslexia. Often people with print disabilities benefit from having the text read aloud to then. Bookshare provides e-books which can be read aloud on a computer or a digital device like a tablet or smart phone. Computers and digital devices have text-to-speech programs that can examine the text in an e-book and read this text aloud.
To read Bookshare e-books aloud the user needs a computer program or an app which uses text-to-speech to read the e-books aloud. Darwin Reader is an Android app the can download and read e-books from Bookshare. First in the upper right corner are three dots. Tap on the three dots will bring up a menu. One of the options is download a book. Tap on download. This will bring you to the Bookshare library. The search icon, a magnifying glass, allows you to search the library by author, title or subject. A list of books will appear. You can tap on any title to bring up a description of the book. If it is a book you would like to read tap on download. The e-book will be downloaded to your device.
Once downloaded the book appears in your library within the Darwin Reader. By tapping on a book title the book well be opened. You will see a arrow at the bottom of the page tapping this arrow starts reading. The best thing about Darwin Reader are the options you can choose for reading. Once again tap the three dots in the upper right corner. You will see settings. Tap settings. Inside settings you can adjust font size, font color, page background color, sentence highlight color and speed of the text-to-speech voice.
I particularly like the ability to customize the page and text colors. An example of my preferred colors is given below. As you can see my main background color is dark green with light green text. These colors are very easy on my eyes. Additionally dyslexic individuals read better with different colored background than white and black text. My section color is blue and the reading highlight color is yellow. I especially like this highlight color since it makes the sentence standout. Unlike other readers that place a color overlay on the highlight text Darwin Reader actually changes the color of the text being read. This makes the sentence standout which means sentences are easy to track and you will not loose your place while reading. Dyslexic individuals often loose their place while reading.
Font sizes can also be adjusted. Sizes run all the way from small to humongous. I like the very large size print. Voice speed can also be adjusted from 1 to 11. I prefer 5. On many Android tablets you can download a variety of voices for reading aloud. On the Kindle Fire the voice is from Ivona. Ivona voice is very clear and easy to listen to. Darwin Reader can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Price is $15. It is worth the price. I got the Darwin Reader on my Amazon Kindle Fire by purchasing Darwin Reader using my Android phone. Then I used APK Extractor to email the app to my Kindle Fire. In this way I legitimately paid for the app and could get it for my Kindle Fire. All-in-all I really love using Darwin Reader and can recommend it highly.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Love my Kindle Fire HDX
I'm loving my new Kindle Fire HDX. As a die-hard Apple fanboy, I thought that I would never find something to live up to my iPad. But the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has really surprised me. Let me start off by saying what I use a tablet computer for. The major things I do on a tablet are to read books and news articles and to write.
The Kindle Fire HDX is great for reading. Amazon has over 2 million book to buy. I find the vast majority of books can be read aloud using the Kindle Fire HDX. I love the excellent quality of the text-to-speech voice. It is easy to read books aloud. You just go to your book and open the text features for the book. Text features allow you to change the text size or the background color of the page. You click on the 'more settings' and toggle text-to-speech on. You will only have to do this step once. When you go back to your book tap on the middle of the page. You will see an arrow. Tap the arrow and the voice will read the book. I find the best speeds for read aloud are voice speeds 1.0 or 1.5. I've contacted Amazon and recommended a 1.25 speed. Again I like the large selection of books and the ability to easily have them read aloud.
The Kindle Fire HDX can also read webpages and news articles aloud. There are some great free apps to do this. @Voice Aloud Reader can read webpages and news articles. Open the Silk browser to a webpage. At the bottom of the browser is a tab symbol with three lines on it. When you tap the tab symbol a menu will pop up. On the menu is the choice to 'Share This Page'. After selecting to share a list will appear with @Voice Aloud Reader. When you tap this choice the text from the webpage will be loaded and read to you. A great feature is as the text is rad aloud, the text is highlighted. @Voice Aloud Reader can also read news articles from the popular news aggregator Zite. The app Google News & Weather lists news articles and has a build in text-to-speech reader.
Writing on the Kindle Fire HDX is a dream. The Kindle Fire HDX comes with a Swype keyboard and Nuance's speech recognition build in. I especially like the ease of running your finger over the letters to make words. The Swype style keyboard is very accurate at guessing which words you are entering. In fact your swipes do not have to be that accurate or your spelling may be wrong and the program is very robust at figuring out what you mean. After you get use to it, I think it is about as fast as using a standard keyboard. It definitely beats pecking away at each letter. The keyboard also comes with great word prediction build in. When you swipe a list of possible words will appear. If the correct word is not presented first time around, then it is most likely in the list of alternatives. If you do type individual letters at a time, a list will predict what you are going to type. This list feature is most helpful to students with word production difficulties. Build into the keyboard is a microphone key. By pressing this key one can dictate instead of type. After dictating a sentence it is transcribed into text. This dictation uses Nuance's Dragon Dictation. So dictation is very actuate. I use OfficeSuite Pro app to do all of my writing. The nice thing about this app is the word processing is very much like using MS Word on a PC. Files can be saved in Word format for easy exporting to other individuals or devices. All in all composing and writing on the Kindle Fire HDX is a breeze and satisfying.
Some people are concerned that the Kindle Fire HDX does not have access to all the Apps in the Google Play Store. I've found a way around this. I purchase my apps on my Android phone. Then using an app called APK Extractor I can email the app to my Kindle Fire HDX to be installed. In this manner I've legitimately paid for the apps and can have them on my Kindle Fire HDX. To install these apps on the Kindle Fire you go to settings > applications > toggle allow unknown apps to on. In this way I was able to get Darwin Reader on my Kindle Fire to read Bookshare books. I don't use Darwin Reader on my phone; therefore, I transferred the app to my Kindle and then deleted it from my phone.
So to sum it up, I am enjoying my Kindle Fire HDX and highly recommend it to everyone.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Recent Interview on Dyslexia and the iPad
Q) Why do you believe so many people know so little about dyslexia?
Every day in America there are school children you do not succeed very well in school. We euphemistically called these children the lower third of the class. Year after year this lower third of the class slogs their way through school. We think that they do not read well because they are unmotivated or not very bright. But it turns out many of these children have dyslexia. Dyslexia is a neurologically based disability that affects one's ability to read, write and spell. Many school officials think that dyslexia is a very rare condition. But it turns out that dyslexia is the most common disability in our society. Research studies which image the brain while children read have discovered that dyslexia is a neurological processing difference. Only recently has this scientific research begun to be recognized by school officials, teachers and parents. Fortunately, there are ways to help dyslexic students succeed in school. One of these approaches is called a multi-sensory approach to learning to read. The multi-sensory approach is called the Orton-Gillingham approach to learning to read. This approach of instruction is most often used by dyslexia centers.
Q) What is it about the iPad that caught your attention?
A second way to help dyslexic students and adults is to provide them with technology that can actually read books, newspapers, and magazines aloud. Most dyslexic students have no difficulty understanding what is read to them. They may struggle with deciphering print, however they do not struggle with language. For example, most dyslexic students who attend college have their textbooks read aloud to them. Apple's iPad can read books, webpages, newspapers and magazines aloud to a dyslexic individual. The first machine which could read books aloud to dyslexic people was invented by Ray Kurzweil. This machine cost $50,000. But with the advances of technology, the iPad can now function as a reading machine. In order to get through college and graduate school I had to have individuals read all my books and journal articles to me. But now that I have an iPad which can read aloud to me, I can read everything to my hearts content. I like to say that my iPad is a miracle for me as a dyslexic person. The Apple App Store also has a large number of apps that help teach reading to children. Additionally, the iPad can help with writing. The iPad allows a person to dictate what they want written. As a student dictates the iPad types out what they have said. This is a great help for dyslexic students.
Q) What can be done to help raise awareness about dyslexia?
Many parents are becoming aware that when their child struggles with reading that they might have dyslexia. We no longer have to look at struggling readers as if they were unmotivated or not very bright. One of the first things that we can do is to help train school psychologist and reading teachers about dyslexia. When students are struggling with reading, they should be tested for dyslexia and offered a multi-sensory approach to learning to read. States like Texas now have passed legislation saying that struggling readers need to be tested for dyslexia and offered specialized instruction.
Q) What is the first step a parent should or can take when they suspect their child might be dyslexic?
When a parent has a child who struggles to read this is a heart wrenching experience. Parents should know that there is help for their children. They can often take the children to it dyslexia center to be tested. This testing is often done by a psychologist who has been trained in diagnosing dyslexia. Again parents should understand that their child is intellectually bright and normal in every respect. Their child simply has a difference in how he or she processes written language for reading. With specialized instruction their child will learn to read. Their child can succeed in school. Also for further information contact the American Dyslexia Association. They can help you locate help for you and your child. You can also read Dyslexia and the iPad, which gives lots of advice on how the iPad can help your child. Dr. Nuttall is also writing a book explaining how the Amazon Kindle Fire can help dyslexic children and adults.
Q) Any parting comments?
I actually use an iPad, a Nexus 7 and a Kindle Fire HDX. I recommend using more than one tablet. But in order of preference I like iPad, Kindle Fire then Nexus.
Kindle HDX First Impressions
Kindle Fire HDX Impressions
I have had some success helping people with dyslexia and the iPad. The Kindle Fire is the second most popular tablet on the market. So I figured that I needed to become competent about the Kindle Fire. So the other day I took the leap and purchased one from Amazon. My first impressions are favorable.
-- Set up is easy.
-- Almost all Kindle books can be read aloud using the TTS.
-- The TTS is the Ivona voice which is very clear and gives an excellent read aloud experience.
-- The voice can be set a different speeds. The 1.0 is generally good. Skilled readers might prefer the 1.5 speed. It is unfortunate that there is no 1.25 speed.
-- The build in keyboard comes with word completion, next word prediction, or swipe input. The keyboard is very accurate.
-- There is also Dictation. The dictation appears to be the same as in the DragonDictate App. So I believe the Dragon Dictate is the speech engine being used.
-- The Amazon Silk browser is provided for the Kindle Fire. This browser is adequate. You can set the search engine to Google or Bing.
-- You can easily read webpages aloud using the @Voice Aloud Reader.
-- People wish that they could read Bookshare books on the Kindle fire. I have a Nexus 7 tablet. So I was able to transfer the Darwin Reader from the Nexus 7 to the Kindle fire. In this manner I was able to set up the Kindle fire to read Bookshare books.
-- On the Kindle fire the screen reader is not called talkback. It is called Screen Reader. This screen reader functions identically to talkback on android tablets. A totally blind person would have to have someone help them set up the Kindle fire when it is initially started. After the initial set up they should be able to run the Kindle fire without any problems.
-- All in all I'm enjoying my Kindle Fire HDX.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Down Country Presentations
Down Country Presentations
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Reading Fluency Practice Makes Perfect
Fluency Development Lesson
Both teachers and parents can use what is called the fluency development lesson to improve reading. These lessons focus on reading a story out loud until the story is read easily and with expression. The following is the process for a fluency development lesson.
1) First you and your child need to choose an interesting short story for reading practice. Choose a story that is not too easy or especially too difficult for your child to read. This story will be rehearsed and performed to develop smooth expressive reading. Since this story will be used frequently over a week, it is important to choose something that is interesting and motivating.
2) The first step is for you to read this story out loud to your child with appropriate expression. This means you will need to read the story to yourself several times until you feel confident about read the story correctly with good expression.
3) Then your child looks at the story while you read the story out loud a second time.
4) The next day you and your child look at the story and review the difficult words and practice saying them. You can ptalk about what the story means.
5) Then you and your child read the story together like a little choir. Read the story together as many times as it takes so your child does not make a lot of hesitations while reading. This can be made extra fun by exaggerating the emotional parts of the text. Some stumbling over words at this point is still expected. This may take several days.
6) Rereading is an important part of developing a smooth reading of the story. You and your child can now take turns reading the story to each other. Do this paired reading until your child is happy with how he is doing. Remember The process should be fun for each of you.
7) Your son or daughter can also practice reading on their own. They can read aloud to the family pet or to thier favorite stuffed toy.
8) Finally you can have a little theater where your child performs the story for the whole family. Perhaps your son or daughter can take the story to their school and perform for their class.
Through the use of the fluency lesson your child not only increases his fluency but will also increased his ability to read on his own. By participating in the fluency lesson your son or daughter will improve his or her word recognition, automatic word identification and comprehension of what is read. In other words fluency is not merely a goal in itself. But fluency helps to improve overall reading. With better fluency your child will become more confident in his own reading and also become more motivated to participate in more reading by himself.
In summary, here are some tips on fluency practice.
First read the story to your child. Then have your child read the story to you. If there are difficult words simply tell your child what they are. Now is not the time for a big phonics lesson. Practice saying the difficult words several times. Then try out some of these ways of practicing. Remember fluent reading takes lots of practice.
Choral reading. In choral reading you and your child read the story together. Practice the story together a number of times until you hear your child speaking the text with a strong voice and with confidence.
Echo reading. With echo reading you and your child take turns reading a line or sentence of the story.
Practice reading the same sentences until your child readers them confidently. Then change the sentences you and your child are reading.
Readers theater. Readers theater is making the story into a play. Usually a story has parts where the characters are speaking, the dialog. Other parts explain the action, the narrative. You can take turns first practicing the dialog or the narrative. Then later switching parts. Or you can read the dialog like a play. Once you have practiced, you can perform the play for your family and friends.
Reading to others. Your child can practice a story by reading it to others. Others can be a younger sibling, a friend and even the family pet. You might be surprised that your child really likes reading to the family dog. In schools there are programs in which students sign up to practice reading to dogs.
Read aloud often. Frequently read aloud to you child. The more you read to them the more they will want to volunteer to read to you. I frequently read to my stepdaughter. Soon she wanted to take turns. So we would read her middle school assignments together. When she was in high school she was one of the few students who would volunteer to read in class.
Sunday, September 01, 2013
A Book Can Change Your Life
The value of self selection in reading
I read a great article on the value of self choice when reading books. Unfortunately I'm not able to find that article. Now that I have my Nexus 7 tablet, I read do many articles. But the author makes the point that when children and adults self-select their books they frequently run into a book that will change their life. I remember reading a book that changed my life.
When I was a young man, I held rather traditional Christian views of life and eternity. But as I went to the university to be trained as a psychologist many of these views changed. There is a scientific hypothesis that thought is merely a by product by brain activity. This hypothesis is called reductionism. As a trained psychologist I had decided that the reductionist hypothesis was the only reality for human existence. As far as I could tell there was no God, heaven or life after death. All we could only know was what we saw before us in our daily lives. This is what I was taught in my graduate training.
After I graduated with my PhD, I had a good friend who liked to read the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I found these books way too difficult to read myself. So my friend recommended that I should read the American philosopher Norman Malcolm. Malcolm was a student of Wittgenstein. He wrote about a lot of Wittgenstein's ideas. I read Norman Malcolm's book Thought and Knowledge.
In this book Malcolm sets out Wittgenstein’s argument that thought is not equivalent to brain activity. Malcolm sets forth a very cogent argument that thought is independent of the brain. Malcolm argues that the reductionist argument is not philosophically sound. Reductionism is what in philosophy is called a circular argument. If you have a circular argument, it means your logic is not good and your argument is not sound. His presentation literally made me drop my book. I sit stunned with my mouth hanging open. This is what can happen when you read a book!
With surprise I thought to myself, if thought cannot be reduced to mere brain activity, then thought can be more than brain activity. Our thoughts were not dependent just on our brains. So thoughts could existed outside of our brains. If that was true then human consciousness did not depend on our body alone. This meant that I could entertain the hypothesis that consciousness (our thoughts) could exist outside of our brains. In other words as humans we have something that is called a soul. This soul can exist beyond the physical body, since thought is not dependent upon the human body. This then lead me on a life long journey of reading scientific research about human consciousness, the human spiritual experience and the possibilities of human existence beyond physical death. So as you see simply reading one book can set a person on a life long journey of learning and investigation. So I encourage you to read and to read to your children. I hope your reading will lead you to your life's journey.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Every Student A Home Schooler
Every Student is a homeschooler. You say but my child goes to public school. Do they do homework? My grandson is in kindergarten. He has homework. Homework is school at home. Especially in the early grades, parents are expected to participate in homework. Sounds like homeschooling to me. Then, of course, there are those who do school at home instead of public school. This section looks at the strategies and examples of homeschoolers. Even though your child attends public school many of these principles can apply to your situation.
How much can be learned when learning is very focused? The Swann family is an example of what can be accomplished with a family focuses on education. Alexandra Swann tells her family's story and journey with home schooling in her book No Regrets How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen [Kindle Edition .99¢]. This family's journey was often motivated by their religious convictions about education. Other homeschool families I personally know have many reasons for choosing homeschool. I know none of them who regretted the experience. I followed the story of the Swann family over 20 years ago. I have use their example in my working with my step-daughter Stephanie. I was fond of saying we sent Stephanie to public school during the day for socialization. At night we did home school together. I the teacher and her my sole student.
The Swann family wanted a Christian education for their children. In 1976 when they started to home school such a movement did not exist. They were told that children could only learn from real teachers who were certified like those in public schools. So Mrs Swann decided to start teaching Alexandra who just turned 5. Mrs Swann figured if she could teach Alexandra to read then she could do home school. Alexandra quickly learned to read and was flourishing. The Swanns enrolled Alexandra in the Calvert private school. Calvert is located in Baltimore, Maryland. Calvert has a highly structured distance education program. The program was frequently used by missionary families from around the world.
The school day at the Swann's home lasted for about 3 hours per day. During the 3 hours, there was total concentration on school work. In education this is called 'time on task'. At the Swann's school time on task was 100% on task. In the best of traditional school situations time on task is 50%. Also unlike traditional school Alexandra and her brothers and sisters received a lot of personal attention from their mother who was the teacher. Mrs Swann did not have a college degree but she figured that she could easily comprehend and teach the daily lessons. Most homeschool mother-teachers I know do not have college degrees, but are successful teachers at home.
There was no homework at the Swann school. Homework in a traditional setting is to help provide one-on-one attention with parents at home. Individual attention is hard to obtain in the traditional classroom. A teacher often has 20 or more students in the room. With this many students to take care of teachers try their best to work with all the students. But time is just limited. My experience knowing homeschool families is that all school work is done during school time and help is immediate.
The Swann school went Monday through Friday, twelve months a year with time off for holidays. There were no summer vacations, Christmas or spring breaks. My 6 year old grandson is experiencing his first summer vacation after kindergarten. He is quite upset. He keeps asking for school and wants to know if today is the day he will start 1st grade.
Although I will be mentioning how Alexandra did in school, it turns out her 9 bothers and sisters followed the same courses and pace of education. Calvert allows students to move at their own pace. As Alexandra completed a required unit, the tests were mailed to Calvert for grading. Alexandra completed 1st grade in 2 1/2 months and started 2nd grade. In fact after 6 months Alexandra finished 3rd grade. By 7 years of age Alexandra started 5th grade. The family moved to New Mexico where homeschool was a legal option.
By 10 years Alexandra started high school. Alexandra eventually had 9 brothers and sisters. . Mother was continually there as the master teacher. Children sat around a large dining room table working on their lessons as mother tutored one of the children. Alexandra finished high school in 18 months of study. Most of the homeschoolers I know often choose to go to school year round. Most are anxious to complete high school in 2 years if possible. There is no skipping any required courses or examinations. Most middle and high school students go to school and watch teachers perform all day lecturing. Homeschoolers, on the other hand, spend their days reading books, completing questions and writing papers instead of listening to lectures.
At eleven and a half Alexandra was ready to start college and did so with the Brigham Young University External Degree Program. This program allow 95% of the work to be complete at home. BYU still offers correspondence courses for the completion of middle school, high school and college. The course work at BYU is expected to take four years. The courses are college level courses and very demanding. At just 15 years old Alexandra was the youngest person to completed her bachelor's degree from BYU.
Mrs Swann was amazing. For all ten of her children, she read every book and every assignment to help her children. This meant reading every book, worksheet and written paper from 1st grade through a master's degree. No child was left out or left behind. All 10 children completed college at an age when most students are thinking about starting high school. My step-daughter, Stephanie needed help in school. I personally read every book, assignment and paper which was required from 7th grade through 12th grade. Although she attended regular public school, I worked continuously with her at night to ensure her success at school.
Alexandra at 16 years of age finished a master's degree from California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). CSUDH runs an external master's degree program in humanities. Again all work for this master's degree can be completed from home. After graduating Alexandra was hired by the local community college to teach history. Alexandra went all the way from 1st grade to a master's degree all at home. So at 17, she was teaching students who had just graduated from the local pubic high school.
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