Sunday, March 16, 2008

Software Review: Confident Reader

While researching a specialist in the field of dyslexia I found this tool Confident Reader. When you click on the website you are greeted with “overcome dyslexia with confident reader". As a professional, I know that dyslexia is a life long struggle and with strategies and support you can accommodate the difficulties that you have in the areas of reading. Now as a family member of a child that is struggle with reading you get the curiosity of a toddler in the toy cabinet. So what is the next magic cure that is going to help my child overcome her dyslexia? What for it……….

Yes, it is assistive technology. Being an assistive technology specialist, I pretty much embrace all new technology that comes to the market. You never know what tool will support the student you are working with. But come on marketing people. Why o, why do you have to say that a child will overcome their reading disability. Assistive technology is an accommodation, one tool in the tool chest to support the student in reading and writing. Assistive technology is not a teacher so it will never teach a skill. It may help with sight word reinforcement but again it will never teach.

I had high hopes and expectations for this software especially since the company says “overcome dyslexia with confident reader” even the big dogs in the game of asssistive technology aren't that confident. Since the company set the bar so high, I set my expectations high.

Word processor:

The word processor has a clean lay out. The menu bar is similar icons to MS Word. The differences would be the settings, spelling and word prediction buttons that appear at the end of the toolbar. The word processor has a feeling of a blog or website. You have an area off to the right for your writing. The size is roughly the width of a standard piece of paper (8 inches wide) and height of 8 inches.

There is a menu that appears to the left side of the screen. The read button, is the top button fairly large. Then under it you have the back button, pause and forward button. Then you have the MP3 button. And then the speech button which you can set to letter, word or sentence. The voice is another menu at the bottom of the page on the left.

I have mixed feelings about having the MP3 button where it is. It just seems like you would want to have common features together such as the reading, the speaker and the typing button. And have the MP3 button seperate from the other features.I know I am being critical but I can see so many student converting their files when they really only wanted to pause the reading. With that said, I LOVE how easy it is to covert the file to MP3 - it's a click of a button and you are rolling.

The software is very easy to set up. The settings include: text to speech, font, hot key, tool bars, typing echo and spelling.

Text to speech: tab that allows you to set your defaults. This is where can select your voice and speed. But you can also do this on screen.
MP3 settings: Output and format that you want the text to be saved as.

Font: Select from the fonts on your computer. Set your default font size. You also set up your background color.

Hot Keys: you can set hot keys for reading/ pause, stop, text to MP3, maximize and minimize, speed up, speed down and change reader.

Toolbars: You can pick check which program you would like the software to work in Word, Excel or Outlook.

Typing Echo: Letter by letter, Word or sentence

Spelling: ignore words with numbers, ignore words in uppercase, ignore words in mixed case, show suggestions, check while typing.

Spell check is extremely poor. The spell check is better in MS word and a free program that I downloaded. For example, I wrote the following sentence, I wesh I coold go to the stor to perchas a new cumputr. The spellcheck in Confident Reader offered wish and could as number 9 choice, 13 spot for store and there were no suggestions for purchase and computer. The same sentence in MS Word resulted in more corrections and better predictability of the word the individual was trying to write. Wish was the second choice. Could was the second choice. Store was the fourth choice. Purchase no suggestion. Computer was the first choice.If this software was meant for individuals with dyslexia, you would think that the spell check would be equal or improved upon then MS word.

The background is very interesting. If you select a background color your background changes but as your start to write the background color stays. However, after you have the program read the text the background is removed from around your words. Even trying to change the color does not make the background become solid again. If I set the background to a color I would want the color to be consistent throughout the whole document.

Pros: easy to use, clear high quality voices, easy conversion for MP3, saves as rtf or txt files, does not visually cue students to misspelled words, highlights full sentences and highlights the words as it reads.

Cons: spell check, funky background, none speaking spell check, no control over font color, highlight of text can't change setence and word highlight to maybe just the word.

Word prediction

The ConfidentReader comes with built in word prediction. Since word prediction typically is suggested for children that struggle with spelling it would be helpful to use a product that actually works with they way they spell. More times then not a child struggles with the phonetic awareness of words. The errors can be seen at the first letter. If the student cannot get the correct first letter the word prediction in this program would not be helpful. The software does not correct phonetic based errors. I tried some frequently misspelled words: cep = keep, phitch = pitch, bec = because (3 letters). Even for a common word "this" I had to add the first three letters before it offered the word on the list at the number 7 location.

Although not all children with dyslexia struggle with phonetics, it would be helpful to have a product that would pick up phonetic based errors. The word prediction did not do this. I am rating the word prediction as poor because the child has to be able to get the first letter correct and for most words you have to put in a second or third letter before the word appears on the list. I was also disappointed that I couldn't change the type of font, the size of font or change the color of the box.

Pros: integrated into the product, you can hear the word by clicking on the speaker to the right of the word. The word prediction has predict in box that follows the cursor.

Cons: No way to change the font size, change the color of the box or font that the word prediction, if you have one letter wrong it will not support writing.

E-book reader:

This feature was not working. I clicked on the icon and all my computer did was search.

Is it worth the cost of $69.00, yes if you don't need a good spell check or good word prediction. However, if you need a good spell check tool and word prediction program, I suggest you keep looking. There are some excellent programs on the market that are reasonable in price and do exactly what is expected. The best thing about this product is the human sounding voices and the easy MP3 conversation.
Please do not take my word for it. Download the software for 10 tries and tell me what you think: click on the download button. Please be aware that when you unzip the file you will have 14 files on your desktop or other location.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Curriculum for special needs students

I have to admit, I don't often get over to the News-2-you website. Many of the students I support have it at school or parents have purchased it for their students at home. Tonight, I was wondering what to do at 1 a.m. so I thought would check it out.

When I first went to the website, I thought I was at the wrong page. The website was nothing like I remembered. It was corporate looking; it lost the feel of fun and educational feel. Now that isn’t a bad thing especially when you are expanding your company’s possibilities to new global market. So although it sounds negative, I like the changes that were made. The site is clean, easy to navigate, visually pleasing and you can find the information that I was looking for without digging.

Now the exciting thing I came across was that News-2- you is releasing a COMPLETE curriculum in the coming year. The curriculum is going to be called Unique Learning System.

At a glance:

  • Four separate grade bands. Allows you to teach age-appropriate material regardless of the students’ prior abilities.
  • 25 activities are available to download and use immediately.
  • Meet the core curriculum standards of state and national
  • All of lessons are aligned to content standards and include differentiated tasks and progress monitoring strategies to meet the needs of every student.

I can't wait to see what the Unique Curriculum looks like. I say ... It's about time. I might even decide to head back to the classroom since there is now a curriculum to follow and they say I won't have to spend hours with adaptations and modifications.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Call for Presenters ..... Take the step

Have something to share.... want to be the person in the front of the room creating the conversation about hot topics in AT , going back to OLD school and generating the next big movement, why not present. The conferences are always looking for new presenters.

TRLD - which is held in San Francisco every year is calling for presenters. The conference is on the small size but has a big heart. It will be held January 22-24, 2009. Yes, SFO is not the warmest place in the summer but in the Winter it is a nice cool rainy place. Even in the rain SFO is a great place to visit. TRLD is looking for presenters. Submit March 10th through June 2nd, 2008!

CTG - which is held in Minneapolis, Minnesota is looking for presenters. The conference has an educational background. Minnesota can be warm or chilly depending on the year. It is being held on October 16-18, 2008. Deadline: - 2:00 pm Central Daylight Time on Thursday, May 1, 2008

ATIA - is held in Florida in the winter. How nice to be able to relax by the pool while everyone else is freezing back home. The conference is unlike most of the conferences. The workshops are spread out nicely, you get lunch daily and you get to see the vending hall without worrying about what you are missing. January 28 - 31, 2009 - Orlando, Florida. No call at this time.