The ability to have text read aloud is a vital access point for many students, and a helpful support to others. Students who may have challenges seeing or decoding text, including those with visual impairments, dyslexia, or learning a second language, use text-to-speech technology as well as recorded and in-person human voice to access rigorous academic content. One of our student testers noted that she would use a read aloud feature while reading along with the text in order to stay focused in a noisy environment.
Read-aloud features may support students with reading and other disabilities on reading tasks:
Researchers have combined read-aloud with other features to support reading comprehension in grades 5 and 6. A study tested a system of physical, sensory, and cognitive supports for reading that included on-demand read-aloud features, marking key words or concepts, and providing background knowledge. Among 30 5th and 6th graders with reading disabilities, reading comprehension increased after using this system.
Read-aloud features may support reading comprehension for high school students. A study of seven high school students with disabilities found that quiz performance and reading comprehension improved when students used text-to-speech assistive technology in an online high school transition course. However, the technology did not have a significant impact on students’ reading grade levels.
Researchers have combined read-aloud features with other supports to improve reading speed in college students. A study of 43 college students found that students with and without reading impairments demonstrated the greatest reading speed when using a combination of forcibly accelerated visual augmentation and auditory text-to-speech.
Having assessments read aloud by a person or text-to-speech technology may improve scores:
Human read-aloud may boost middle school students’ test scores. A study asked 260 middle school students with and without disabilities to take tests in multiple subjects. It found that students scored higher when tests were read aloud by a researcher compared to when tests were not read aloud.
A read-aloud option may raise test scores among high school students with learning disabilities. A study of ten high school students with learning disabilities reported higher scores on a history and civics test administered in a computer-based system with an optional text to speech feature, compared with the same test in a paper-and-pencil format.
Students’ preferences for read-aloud options vary. In one study , two high school students with vision impairments who opted to use a read-aloud feature on an assessment reported they liked it. In interviews for another study, 5 of 12 students with dyslexia said that they did not like to use a screen reader because is was distracting or it read too quickly.
There may be ways to increase users’ satisfaction with read-aloud features:
One option is to use professional human voices. A study of 826 Amazon Mechanical Turk participants found that professional human voices are perceived as better than amateur human voices and synthesized voices, and that some types of synthesized voices are perceived as better than amateur human voices.
Another option is to pair read-aloud audio with computer-generated faces. Researchers developed a text-to-audiovisual speech synthesizer in which a computer-generated face reads text aloud, and its features and emotional expressions correspond to speech. Seven high school and graduate students, some of whom had dyslexia, pilot tested the system. Researchers reported that all participants found the system useful.
The features of the CISL tools are related to existing guidelines and best practices, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines. The feature of embedded comprehension checks is connected to:
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines
UDL Checkpoint 1.3: Offer alternatives for visual information
UDL Checkpoint 2.3: Support decoding of text, mathematical notation, and symbols
UDL Checkpoint 4.2: Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies
Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG does not require that a read-aloud feature be provided, but many of its guidelines are aimed towards making sure that content will work with read aloud software that the user might have (ie, a screen reader). For instance guidelines about avoiding images of text, providing expanded forms for abbreviations, and so forth will allow a screen reader to work smoothly with the content.
Read aloud examples
See how TextHelp’s Read&Write for Education provides Read Aloud and other supports.
Raising the Floor compiled a list of over 75 Read Aloud tools, as well as some supporting research.