Using Read&Write for Google Chrome in the primary classroom

The potential for Google Apps for Education to transform learning is not limited to the basic suite of programs. A simple, but effective accessibility extension is making a big difference to the way that young students are interacting with texts.

The Read&Write for Google toolbar

Read&Write for Google is designed as an accessibility extension. It includes tools such as predictive text, dictionaries, a screen reader and a speech-to-text function. All students and teachers in the ACT Education Directorate have access to Read&Write via their Chrome browser. This post looks at some examples of how it’s being used to make a difference to students in the primary years.
Picture dictionaries can help with learning vocabulary. 

Speech-to-text to motivate reluctant writers

At Fraser Primary School, the speech-to-text function has made it easier for reluctant writers to participate in literacy activities. Simon* told me “I have a condition called Dyslexia, and Speech-to-text helps me write what I want to write.” Simon told me that he really hasn’t done much writing at school - ever - because it was always really hard to get his ideas down on paper. As a result, he was often frustrated and opted-out of writing tasks.

Now, he told me he does a lot of writing, because he can say what he wants to write and it appears on the screen. He can then work with the text: reviewing it, editing it and getting it to a publishing stage. He said he’s now published a narrative, letters, and has even put together a rostrum speech in record time!

The same change happened to Josh* at Charnwood-Dunlop Primary School. He was also a ‘non-writer’ and couldn’t think of anything worse than having to write “lots”. Support staff introduced him to the speech-to-text tool and Josh was amazed at how much writing he got done when a pen and paper weren’t holding him back. Now he just wants to “write and write”.

Using the screen reader to help with editing and feedback

The screen reader function also helps students that maybe aren’t as keen to review their work. Wanniassa School student Bryce* (like most students) wasn’t keen to revisit his work once he had ‘done a draft’. His teacher told me a great story about about the moment this changed for him. During a writing task, he was encouraged to grab some headphones and use the screen reader to listen to his written draft. His teacher said during the quiet lesson he suddenly called out “there’s no ‘the’ in the sentence!” (he’d forgotten he was wearing headphones). He’d suddenly realised, through listening to his work read back to him, that it didn’t actually make sense. It was only then that he was motivated to go back and change it.
The screen reader highlights the text as it reads along. 
The other comment that I’ve heard a lot about the screen reader tool is that it can help to ease some of the cognitive load around reading. If the task isn’t a specific ‘reading task’, then giving students the opportunity to use the screen reader means that they can focus on the content of the lesson, rather than expending all their energy on decoding the text. Teachers can then assess the skills and knowledge that they need to access. Making all types of content more accessible to students is really motivating for them, and teachers tell me that the ‘non readers’ are much more engaged and on task when they’re allowed to take this flexible approach.

This works in another beautiful way too; giving students that might not normally be able to provide peer feedback (due to their limited reading capacity) the opportunity to “read” their peers’ work and give them feedback.Students are much more confident about providing that feedback when they know they’ve properly understood what their peer has written.

There are lots of ways that Read and Write could be used in the classroom. Have you seen or heard of some good uses of this extension? Why not share them in the comments?

*Student’s names have been changed to protect their identity.