I often give my students assignments to read for class. They are grade level appropriate. The problem is not all of my students read on grade level. This is nothing new and has always a problem for teachers. Many times I resort to rewriting the assignment myself but it is a time consuming task. With all that is a available on the internet I decided to investigate technology that would make assignments accessible to all of my students.
I discovered rewordify.com and liked how I could paste in a text and rewordify would make the text easier to read. I could then print it out and give it to students as an alternate text. It would make differentiation easier. I found I needed to read through and edit the rewordified document, though, since it sometimes created awkward phrasing in its attempt to make the passage more accessible. In addition, it had a vocabulary teaching component that could be used directly related to the text. I also liked how you could put a website in the text pane then it would take you to to the website and reword it. It continued to each page of the site as well as links to other sites I clicked as I read. I could certainly see this being helpful to students as they do research. Too often they end up on sites that are written above their reading level.
One of the sites I already use is Reading A-Z as a source for content area reading. I can assign a book and if it is above a student’s reading level it has an audio component so the book can be used by all of my students. It is a subscription service and has a limited number of books so I started searching for text to speech services offered for free. I found a few online with NaturalReader being the best of the bunch since it would read a variety of different types of documents. The sample pane and reader worked well and reviews online sounded promising. I ran into a problem when my Mac’s system wasn’t up to date enough to download the software. I will try it on my school computer but will need a tech administrator to approve and download it. If it works like I anticipate I will then need the administrator to download it onto student computers on our laptop carts. It may take a while before it is up and running. In the meantime I can at least use Readability-Score.com to assess the reading level of web pages. It used a variety of readability formulas to obtain an average grade equivalent.
Because I do end up rewriting assignments and passages I found a helpful tool built right into Microsoft word in my search. After writing a document one can use the spelling and grammar check tool to also analyze the document and give a Flesch readability score and a Flesch-Kincaid grade level equivalent. I had no idea that was built into Word! To set it up click options when in the spelling and grammar check then click show readability statistics (make sure it also has grammar with spelling checked). The statistics will show after the spelling and grammar check is complete. The document can also be pasted into Online Utility to be analyzed. In addition to giving readability scores, it also gives suggestions on what to change in a document to improve the readability.
None of these tools by itself is the answer but each one can be used to make differentiation and accessibility easier in the classroom.