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.


Julie said...

I could not use the ebook feature, either and wonder if they are aware it needs work.
I agree with your spell check crtitique. I work with dyslexic students and they would have a very hard time reading through all the alternate choices. The word prediction was interesting...I'll have to see how my students like that.
I did LOVE the easy way to apply oral reading to material. The voices sounded pretty good for an artificial voice. Even better was the ability to change the oral reading rate.
I have several students that I think would benefit from this tool. It certainly can't teach them strategies to overcome dyslexia as they advertise, but it seems like a valuable tool when it comes to accommodations.

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