Speech-to-text can be a real game-changer in the classroom, especially for students who have difficulty getting their thoughts onto paper. And today, speech-to-text programs and apps are available on more computers, tablets and smartphones than ever before – making this teaching strategy an option for both students and teachers.
I realize that the need to write directly from thought to paper is a requirement for some state tests, so this method wouldn’t apply in that case. However, there are places where it is appropriate and even beneficial for students to put their thoughts onto paper through an intermediary method, speech to text software.
Students who have difficulty communicating, such as some students on an IEP, can really benefit from using speech to text software. I’ve seen this method transform a student’s world when he or she could use speech to text to get their thoughts into written form.
Using speech-to-text can free up working memory so the student totally focuses on the task at hand. They’re not sidetracked by grammar, sentence structure, spelling or paragraph structure – these can be dealt with after students get their thoughts on paper.
And here’s an added benefit for teachers: Typing in your notes about the most recent class, along with ideas or thoughts about the classes to come can be much easier using speech-to-text software.
Use the software to quickly detail “what happened today” in class, what worked, what didn’t. Detail any ideas you have to expand upon things that worked and improve the things that didn’t work. Later, you can sit down, review the transcribed notes, and organize them in any way that makes them easier to refer back to later, or for others to read.
Speak like a robot – I’ve found that telling students to “speak like a robot” is a fast way to explain how best to use the software, rather than telling them to use clear enunciation with no inflection. There are fewer errors in translation doing it this way. https://susanfitzell.com/speech-to-text/
Sit in a quiet area – The less background noise and conversation going on, the more accurate that speech to text will be. Have the student sit in a quieter part of the room while they speak their thoughts.
Use a microphone or headset – Using a headset with microphone, or even just earbuds with a phone mic attached, helps isolate the speaker’s voice so the dictation software can pick it up better.
Use built-in instructions to save time – Learn the specific commands that you can use with speech to text software to do things like shift to the next line, set punctuation and more.
“Train” the software – Dictation apps need to “learn” the way that you speak so that they better recognize what you’re saying. Completing the available tutorials will teach you to use the software and memorize many of the basic commands while at the same time the program is “trained” to recognize your speech. These tutorials take less than 10 minutes, and some just take about 2 minutes, include this step when you first start using a speech to text program and the accuracy rate will be much higher.
Use a “placeholder” word for difficult-to-recognize words – Even the best speech to text software has trouble recognizing some words. This may be because the word and its pronunciation are different (try an Irish name like Saoirse and watch the fun begin). Or, a student may have trouble pronouncing certain words. In that case, substitute a word that’s not too common but easy to pronounce in its place (maybe “Oscar”). Later, when editing, find the placeholder word and replace it with the actual word.
Edit, edit, edit – Once the speech-to-text session is finished, the student should double-check and correct the text. No speech to text software is 100% accurate.
I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to write many of my books. As with any premium software, it does cost money. However, there are dictation apps available for many devices. Here are some low-cost options for speech to text software, many of which your students may already have on their tablets or phones:
Apple Dictation – Available on iOS systems including iPhones, iPads and Macs, this allows users to dictate up to 30 seconds at a time.
Apple Enhanced Dictation – Those using iPhone 6s or newer or running Mac OSX 10.9 or later can enable Enhanced Dictation in their system preferences. This allows users to dictate for an unlimited amount of time.
Windows Speech Recognition – Available on all versions of Windows XP and newer. In Windows 10, simply type “Windows Speech Recognition” into the “Type here to search” bar on the desktop, then enable and set up the app. In XP, click the “Start” icon and select All Programs – Accessories – Ease of Access – Windows Speech Recognition and activate. Then, open a program, browser or app to start dictating.
Google Docs Voice Typing – Students using Google’s Chrome browser can access a speech to text feature within Google Docs. Open up the Chrome browser, log into a Google account, and select “Docs” from the options grid in the top right. Open a new document and then click “Tools” in the document’s toolbar, scroll down and enable Voice Typing. Remember, this only works in the Chrome web browser; in Firefox or Edge, you can see the feature in the Tools drop-down, but it will not be enabled.
Android smartphones – Most of today’s Android smartphones have a speech-to-text feature for certain apps like messaging and memos. (While many classrooms have rules against students taking out their phones during class, a compromise may be reachable for students who could benefit from speech to text.)
For more information about using technology to strengthen instruction, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Using iPads and Other Cutting Edge Technology to Strengthen Your Instruction.