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We often travel in the summer holidays but I am sure none of you will travel as far afield as the aliens featured in this month’s book blog.  You may think that alien’s don’t exist.  You may think that you live in an ordinary town that alien’s wouldn’t be interested in visiting.  These books might show you how wrong you are!  Humans are a very interesting group and these books suggest that some of them have visited Earth to study us.

Alien’s Love Underpants by Claire Freedman Illustrated by Ben Cort

Age 3 and above

If you have ever wondered where your pants disappear to then this book could provide the answers.  Rhyming text, a variety of aliens and a wide range of words for knickers make this book an engaging and entertaining read.  If you like this book then there are a range of Bob books for you to enjoy.

The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram          

Age 4 and above

Bob works on the moon.  Every morning he gets in his rocket and travels to the moon.  He keeps the moon clean and shows the tourists around.  Sometimes he gets asked if there are aliens on the moon, he finds this funny and confidently tells people no.  The illustrations in this book tell a very different story.

Letters From an Alien Schoolboy by Ros Asquith             

Age 7 and above

Flowkwee has been sent to Earth by his father to carry out research about young earthlings.  He does this by pretending to be an Earth schoolboy and writes letters back to his home planet of Faa.  He clearly feels that earthlings’ behaviour and looks are very strange!

Alienography by Chris Riddell   

Age 8 and above

A beautiful book written and illustrated by children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.  Alienography provides hilarious and fascinating insights into a whole range of different aliens and how to deal with the situation if they decide to attack.  There are games, postcards and pull-outs to keep you entertained. This is a book that can be read again and again.

Star Fighter: Alien Attack by Max Chase                            

Age 9 and above

Peri is an Intergalactic Force Academy Star Fighter, working to defend the Milky Way.  Aliens board Peri’s ship.  He must work together with his co-pilot Diesel and their engineer Selene to overcome the aliens and stop them from storming the galaxy.

Wanda and the Alien by Sue Hendra     

Age 3 and above

When an alien crash lands on earth Wanda helps her to fix her spaceship and they become friends.  Wanda wants to introduce the alien to her friends but she can’t find them anywhere.  Wanda’s friends were afraid of the alien.  Can Wanda convince them that the alien is friendly?

Tommy Niner and the Planet of Danger by Tony Bradman, Illustrated by Martin Chatterton        

Age 7 and above

Tommy and his crew have gone to investigate Sector 13 as spaceships have been going missing.  An alien gravity beam pulls their spaceship towards a sinister looking planet.  Can Tommy and his crew escape the planet of danger?

Dr Xargle’s book of Earthlets by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross    

Age 6 and above

Dr Xargle is a lecturer on the subject of ‘Earthlets’.  This book provides an alien’s eye view of the arrival of a new baby in a family.  Hopefully the book will show aliens and humans alike although babies can appear a little strange they are a good addition to any family.

Greetings, Earthlings! by James Carter and Brian Moses             

Age 7 and above

Brian Moses and James Carter are two of the nation’s best loved children’s poets.  They have created a collection of poems featuring all things space age, including aliens.  The collection is sponsored by the Science Museum and the poems are certainly out of this world!

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy

Age 12 and above

The Earth has been invaded by aliens.  They have destroyed society in waves.  Firstly by cutting off the power, secondly by creating a huge tidal wave, thirdly by a horrific plague which wiped out four billion people after which it became clear that the survivors of the plague were no longer human.  The fifth wave is beginning.  Can Cassie find her younger brother?  Should she trust Evan to help her? 

Enjoy!

Alison

Read, share, enjoy!

I hope that this monthly blog will give readers ideas about which books might appeal to those who are reluctant to read or have dyslexia. Dyslexia Action’s leaflet encouraging young reluctant readers is a good start for those who are looking to support young reluctant readers and readers with dyslexia. Dyslexia Action also offers tuition with specialist teachers to support those who may need extra help. Once needs have been identified, our specialist teachers can work with children, young people and adults to develop coping strategies that can assist with skills like reading and writing. For some, extra tuition can be a life-line.

The Book Blog is written by Alison Keeley who looks after Dyslexia Action’s Learning Centres in the South of England. Prior to joining Dyslexia Action Alison worked as a Deputy Head and for Booktrust. She has always read a wide range of children’s literature even though she technically stopped being a child some time ago. If you have any questions or suggestions about subjects for future blogs please do leave a comment below.

Reading hints and tips leaflet for young reluctant readers

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TEACHERS may be better equipped to support pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities under new Government plans.

                                    

A framework of core content for initial teacher training (ITT) has now been published and it has been recommended that it is ‘… adopted by the Department for Education (DfE), and used as one of the key measures of quality when allocating ITT places in future’.

 

In response, the DfE last week announced that it ‘accepted’ the recommendation and stated: ‘We committed in our White Paper to develop a new set of quality criteria that will in future be applied when training places are being allocated to providers. We intend to use the ITT framework of content to inform assessments of quality under the new criteria. This means that all ITT providers will need to ensure that their programmes align with the new framework, and are able to demonstrate this when submitting their requests for ITT places. The Department expects to use the framework as part of the quality criteria for allocations from the 2018/19 training year; further detail will be confirmed and communicated to the sector in spring/summer 2017’.

 

Dyslexia Action welcomes the fact that the Government accepts the recommendation of the working group, made up of expert representatives from the sector, including a specialist in SEN issues. Dyslexia Action particularly welcomes the fact that ITT providers ‘…should ensure that trainees are able to adapt teaching strategies to ensure that pupils with SEND (including, but not limited to, autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory impairment or speech, and language and communication needs (SLCN)) can access and progress within the curriculum’.

 

Although not explicitly mandatory, the DfE says there will be a ‘very strong commitment’, that ITT providers will need to ensure their programmes align with the new framework, and are able to demonstrate this when submitting their requests for ITT places. 

 

The recommended framework follows the publication of the Sir Andrew ‘Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT)’. Stephen Munday CBE, Chair of the independent working group and Chief Executive of Comberton Academy Trust, told Dyslexia Action: "We are delighted the Programme of core content for ITT courses has now been published. One very important part of this relates to teachers being well equipped to work with, teach and oversee the excellent progress of pupils with SEND. This overtly includes pupils with dyslexia. Given the Government has accepted our recommendation for the Programme to be part of the quality criteria for all ITT providers we are confident that it will be taken very seriously by all providers."

 

The Government said that the DfE expects to use the framework as part of the quality criteria for allocations from the 2018/19 training year; further detail will be confirmed and communicated to the sector next spring/summer (2017).

 

A DfE spokesman added: “We will communicate further with ITT providers to ensure that there is a common understanding of the new framework and its implications for future allocations.” 

 

Commenting on these developments, Stephen Hall, Dyslexia Action’s Chief Executive said: “We, as an organisation, are hugely encouraged by this development. Dyslexia Action has long been advocating for the obligatory training of teachers on the range of special education needs within the Initial Teacher Training framework. As set out in the legislation every teacher has a responsibility to support and encourage the whole range of students in their classroom including those with Special Educational Needs. To enable them to fulfil that task, teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge and strategies to facilitate that. Training on specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia at the start of a teacher’s career is a critical tool that all new and aspiring teachers should have within their portfolio of skills to help them identify and better support those students within their charge. Although this latest development does not make content on SEND within ITT obligatory, we do believe that with such clear guidance and recommendations in place it will be difficult for ITT providers to ignore and exclude this critical area of training from their courses.  This is a very positive step forward indeed.”

 

 

What is this about

This is a post in part of an extended series on speech-assisted reading on mobile devices (I call it STAR for speech-and-tablet-assisted reading).

In this post, we will review several apps that will let you read the news with the assistance of speech. The apps are:

How to read news with speech

Unfortunately, most news apps or news websites do not offer a speech version of their pages. This is a big omission and makes news more difficult to access for people with dyslexia.

Luckily there are apps with online services that can help. There are two ways in which this can be done:

  • App to subscribe to a news feed from a news web site or blog
  • App to send a page to using a browser extension to read later with speech

Reading news on iPads

On an iPad, reading with speech is easy thanks to the Speak Screen feature we covered in detail recently.

If you have Speak Screen enabled, all you have to do is swipe with two fingers from the top edge of your iPad or iPhone screen. This works on any webpage or inside a news app.

On an Android tablet or phone, you can use the @VoiceAloud app but it does not work with all other news apps.

You will be much better off with a special app designed just for news. Many news publications have their own apps but if you follow more than one, it is best to use a general newsreader. This will also let you discover more news stories.

Palabre

What it does

Palabre is my daily news reading app. It downloads the latest items from news sites and blogs I subscribe to. It has the best text formatting options I found and a readability mode. You can subscribe to news directly or using Feedly (which is what I do).

Palabre just recently added text-to-speech that works really well. Palabre is Android only.

The basic Palabre app is free but you can buy the premium version for additional features.

How to use it

 

To pick a source of news, tap on the three-line menu in the top left corner and under Providers, choose Palabre (RSS), there will be suggestions there for you. Or you can add an individual web site by searching for it under Manage sources.

 

To read news, simply tap on the title of the article from the list you want to read. At the bottom of the page, you can choose Readability mode which will make it much more dyslexia-friendly.

You can also swipe left or right to jump from article to article.

I recommend that you explore the settings for display options to choose the one that poses the fewest distractions.

 

To start speech, simply choose Text-to-Speech from the three 3-dot menu in the top right corner.

Then use the play/pause button to control speech. The skip buttons skip between articles, not in the text.

You can also enable the Auto play next option under settings. This means that all articles in your feed will be read out one after the other.

If you want to change the speed of play back, you have to do it in the system-wide text-to-speech settings.

The app will speak in the background or when your phone screen is turned off but has no remote controls.

Alternatives

I could not find a good alternative app that would have speech built in. Instapaper is the best alternative but you have to manually send articles to it.

 

Instapaper

What it does

Instapaper is one of the first read it later services that appeared about 10 years ago. I use it regularly to store longer webpages and news items that I want to read later. I installed an extension in Chrome that I click every time I come across a webpage I want to read later on my phone or tablet. It also integrates directly with Palabre on my phone, so if I come across a very long news item or a blog post, I can save it directly to Instapaper for reading later.

Another advantage of Instapaper is that it simplifies the webpage you are reading and only shows you the text and main images. It strips away all the confusing sidebars and headers and footers.

Instapaper has free apps for iOS and Android. You can also read stories in Instapaper using its website.

The basic service is free but Instapaper charges a monthly subscription for some advanced features such as note taking and searching through your archive.

How to use it

Instapaper is really easy to use:

If you only use it on your phone or tablet, all you have to do is install the app. Then when you come across a long news story or webpage, you simply share it to Instapaper.

If you also want to use it on your computer, you will need to install a free extension for your browser. Then simply click the extension icon when you are on a webpage that you want to read later.

To start listening to a new story in Instapaper,  simply tap on the three-dot menu in the top right corner and choose Speak.  The app will start reading and highlighting text as it is read out.

You can skip back and forth by sentence using the skip buttons. I recommend to change the speed of playback.

You can even cue up multiple stories to play one after another, if you use folders.

Although, there are no subscriptions in Instapaper, advanced users can use IFTTT to have them automatically sent to the app.

Some people may even like to use the built in speed reader that shows you the article word by word.

Alternatives

The main competitor to Instapaper is Pocket. It also has a free text-to-speech facility but I think the Instapaper implementation is much more user-friendly.

Nuzzel

What it does

Nuzzle is a slightly different way of getting news. It does not contain text-to-speech functionality directly in the app but its great advantage is that it offers dyslexia-friendly formatting of news stories.

Nuzzle does not get news stories from websites that you tell it to. Instead, it looks in your Twitter or Facebook feeds to see what new stories are popular with your friends or the people you follow. If more than one person mentions a link, Nuzzle will pull it into its app.

How to use it

You do need a Twitter account but you don’t have to ever share anything on it. Simply find some people who you think will have something interesting to share (Twitter gives you some suggestions when you first sign up) and follow them. Then use your Twitter account to sign up for Nuzzle and you never have to visit Twitter again. Nuzzle will simply pull all the news stories you need.

Both Twitter and Nuzzle are completely free.

Then if you want to read one of the news stories with the assistance of speech, simply use the share icon to send it to Instapaper or @Voice Aloud. Or use Speak Screen on an iPad or the iPhone.

Alternatives

Free apps and services similar to Nuzzle do exist but I found them to be less friendly for struggling readers. Two to consider are:

Podcasts

Another way to access news without straining your eyes is to listen to news podcasts. There are many podcasts you can subscribe to for free and will give you a regular update on what is going on. You can read more about podcasts in a previous Tech Thursday post.

Next: Learning foreign languages with apps

Next time, we will look at some apps that can be used to help learn a foreign language.

Tech Thursday is written by Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist

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VoiceDream Reader Screenshot
 

What is this about

This is a post in part of an extended series on speech-assisted reading on mobile devices (I call it STAR for speech-and-tablet-assisted reading).

In this post, we will review VoiceDream Reader, the most complete dyslexia-friendly reader app for iPads, iPhones and Android tablets.

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

Overview

VoiceDream Reader is the most feature complete reader app aimed at readers with dyslexia or anybody who likes to use text-to-speech to read their books and other texts.

Its creators have thought of almost every possible feature somebody reading a book with the assistance of speech might want. What’s more, the interface is really clean and easy to use.

By the pricing standards of apps, Voice dream reader is relatively expensive, but it still only costs £8.

Voice dream reader was first created for the iPad but is now also available on Android. But the iPad and iPhone version receives new features and updates first. The Android version is still very good but in this review we will focus on the iPad. I will note if there is an important difference between Android and iPad when necessary.

Key features

The key features of voice dream reader are:

  • Reading with speech options
  • Reading websites and e-books in many formats
  • PDF handling
  • Downloading books directly from Bookshare and other e-book repositories
  • Integration with GoogleDocs, Dropbox, or even Evernote and Instapaper

Speech-assisted reading

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

Reading with text-to-speech is the key function of VoiceDream Reader. And it performs it really well.

At the bottom of the screen, you can use the play button and the skip buttons. But you can also use your fingers.

  • Double tapping anywhere in the text will start reading from that position
  • Swiping down with 2 fingers will pause or start play
  • Swiping left or right with 2 fingers will jump back or forward in the playback

You can set the skip buttons to move you back by a set time, the word, or a sentence.

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

You can also choose what is being highlighted. You can highlight the line, or the word that is being read, or both.

And you can choose how much text you see at once. This could be one, 3, or 5 lines. This is a great feature for people with dyslexia or people with attention difficulties.

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

Another way to make following the text easier while it’s being read out is to set VoiceDream Reader to always keep the highlighted line in the middle of the screen. This means that your eyes don’t have to hunt for the cursor.

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

Another great feature that has only just been added is called Finger Reading. Simply tap and hold a word and it will be read out. If you keep your finger on the word and slide it to the next word and then the next, you can have the text read out word by word at your own pace.

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

Reading websites and other documents

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

One of the great things about VoiceDream Reader is that it supports more than just e-books. It can open documents in almost any format including audiobooks.

Many people might want to use it to read websites. The best way to do that is to use the share button in the browser and share the page the VoiceDream Reader. But there is a built in legacy browser from previous versions that people could use.

Handling PDFs

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

PDFs are always a problem if you want to read them with speech. This is because their formatting does not make it clear which bits should be read out. This is especially difficult with academic articles that have long headers and footers. And a speech reader will read them out right after the last word on the previous page.

VoiceDream Reader has a feature to help with that that will allow you to cut off the header and the footer. This is similar to @Voice Aloud reader that we looked at last week.

Another problem with PDFs is that they are often formatted in such a way that viewing the full page on the phone or even an 8 inch tablet makes the letters too small. For that, and app needs to implement a Reflow feature. VoiceDream Reader does this really well with its plain text mode.

Downloading books directly from Bookshare and other repositories

VoiceDream Reader Screenshot

VoiceDream lets you download books directly from online repositories. The most important ones are:

  • Project Gutenberg with free out of copyright e-books
  • Bookshare with books in accessible formats aimed at users with dyslexia and visual impairments

Integration with Dropbox and others

Another way to get books into VoiceDream Reader is through cloud file sharing services such as Dropbox or Google Drive. But you can also connect it to Evernote or Instapaper.

If you use Google Drive, VoiceDream Reader will even open GoogleDocs by converting them to PDF.

Other features

Playlists and folders

If you have a lot of short texts you can put them in a folder which will then work as a playlist. Under the mode button in the top left corner, you can choose what happens when you come to the end of the document.

Pac-Man mode for reading

Under the formatting settings menu, you can enable a so-called Pac-Man mode. That will delete the text as it is being read out. This both reduces distractions and, at least according to VoiceDream Reader, can increase your reading fluency over time.

Chapter navigation with automatic speech

Any e-reader will let you jump from chapter to chapter or section to section. But VoiceDream Reader will start reading as soon as you hit the chapter button. This may not seem like much but if you jump around the text aloud, it will make things a lot easier.

What’s missing

There were only 2 features that I found missing from voice dream reader:

  • Support for DRM in e-books: this would make it possible to read books from public libraries or both purchased in some bookstores.
  • Page turning: the only way to read a book in VoiceDream Reader is to scroll down as in a webpage. This is fine but many people prefer to be able to turn pages as if they were reading a book. Most reader apps have these settings.

VoiceDream Reader also currently does not support RNIB Bookshare but hopefully will soon.

Conclusion

VoiceDream Reader is simply the best example of how to do text-to-speech in an app for reading. In this review, I focused only on the most important features and scanned things such as font formatting or highlighting that can be found in any standard reader. But even these are implemented well with a focus on people with literacy difficulties.

Next: Reading news with speech

Next time, we will look at some apps that can be used to read news with the assistance of speech.

Tech Thursday is written by Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist

 

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Voice Aloud Screenshot

What is this about

This is a post in part of an extended series on speech-assisted reading on mobile devices (I call it STAR for speech-and-tablet-assisted reading).

In this post, we will have a look at a freemium app @Voice Aloud that can read out web pages and documents on your Android phone or tablet.

This is the closest equivalent to Screen Speak on iPhones and iPads.

Getting started

1. Install @Voice Aloud from the Google Play Store.

2. Read text in @Voice Aloud: there are two ways that you can have @Voice Aloud read text.

2a. Share text from an app using the Android share menu. This could be a webpage, Google docs, Microsoft Word.

2b. Open a document directly in @Voice Aloud. This could be PDF or an e-book in the ePub format.

@Voice Aloud is free and supported by ads. You can remove the ads for £3 by purchasing an addon license app.

@Voice basic speech control

@Voice Aloud uses the standard interface for controlling text-to-speech. You can jump back and forward by one sentence with the arrow buttons. And play or pause the speech with the play/pause button.

The buttons are nice and large and work reliably.

You can even double tap on a sentence and the speech will start reading it out.

Voice Settings

When you tap on the arrow in the bottom toolbar you will get more options for configuring the voice. You can change the speed and pitch and volume.

But you can also change the voice that is being used. @Voice Aloud comes with its own voice which isn’t very good. You should change the setting to using the system voice such as one from Ivona.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

 

Reading webpages

Reading a single page

@Voice Aloud works best with webpages.

1. On any webpage with text you simply go to the browser menu and choose the Android share option.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

2. In the share menu, you choose @Voice Aloud Reader.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

The web page will then open in @Voice Aloud and the tablet or phone will start reading it out to you using the voice. Text will be highlighted as it is read out.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

Creating a playlist of multiple pages

@Voice Aloud also allows you to queue up multiple pages in playlist that you can then listen to as you walk about.

To do that you simply select the Add to list option in the share menu instead of the play option.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

The pages will then queue up in @Voice Aloud. You can arrange the order and listen to them one after the other.

You can even create multiple playlists. The process is simple but not intuitive.

  1. In the playlist view, tap on the three bar menu which opens the playlists.
  2. Tap on the three dot menu and then choose New list.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

Reading PDF documents or e-books

@Voice Aloud is also a very good way to voice-read PDFs or even e-books in the ePub format.

Open the @Voice Aloud app and tap on the open folder icon.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

You then navigate through the folders to where your document is stored. And open it.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

If the ePub e-book has a table of contents, you can navigate using the main playlist menu.

If you install the free PDF crop plugin, you can crop out headers and footers from the PDF. This makes reading books and academic articles much easier.

Reading a Google Doc or Word Document

If you use Google Docs or Word apps on your phone or tablet, you can share your documents to @Voice Reader.

  1. Choose the save as / share option in the app menu.
  2. Choose Share PDF
  3. Choose @Voice aloud

This will then open the document in the @Voice app in the same way it would a PDF. It is not as elegant as Apple’s speak screen but it works.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

Settings and other features of @Voice Aloud

@Voice Aloud has lots of other settings and features to keep in mind.

Background playback

Voice Aloud Screenshot

You can turn of your screen or use other apps while @Voice Aloud reads out the text to you. You can even control the playback with your headphones.

There’s nothing you have to do. Simply switch to another app or turn the screen and set the phone aside.

Dictionary

@Voice Aloud can also connect to a dictionary app. You must have several dictionary apps installed. Then you can highlight any word within @Voice Aloud and then choose the dictionary icon. Definition will pop up.

The first time you do this, you will be asked to choose a dictionary app. I recommend the free Colordict app.

Bookmarks and highlight

One of the options when you highlight some text is to tap the bookmark button.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

This will highlight the text and allow you to jump back to this area. This only works with text that is saved.

Text formatting

Voice Aloud Screenshot

The font size button lets you increase the font size and change the colour combinations.

There are three colour presets and you can choose any colours for background, font and highlight you want.

You can also choose to use @Voice Aloud in different modes:

  • Preserve styles: This will keep the formatting of the original. This generally makes it more difficult to see but can be useful with complicated pages.
  • Pages: Normally, you just scroll down in @Voice as on a webpage. But you can enable this mode to make @Voice turn pages as in an ebook.
  • Full screen: Will only show the text and nothing else on screen when it is being read out. Great on smaller screens.

Unfortunately, @Voice Aloud does not let you choose a font and the text is justified with no setting for left aligned. This is particularly bad when the font size is increased.

Voice Aloud Screenshot

Sync with Dropbox and Pocket

One of the advanced features is syncing with Dropbox or Pocket. You can connect the app with your Dropbox account and sync your reading position.

But when I tried that, it wasn’t very reliable.

I did not test the synchronization with pocket. Pocket is a read it later service that I don’t use. I prefer to use Instapaper which has a really good text-to-speech feature built-in. We will review Instapaper later on in this series.

What @Voice Aloud won’t read

@Voice Aloud is not a full replacement for speak screen. It will not read any part of the interface on the screen. For example, a list of set things or a help page.

Some apps also do not allow you to easily share the text inside them. Messaging apps may be the ones that you would most like to do this with. Facebook messenger, your texting app, what’s app or email apps may not make it easy.

The best way to get around this, is to copy the text and past it inside @Voice Aloud using the three-dot menu.

Next: VoiceDream Reader

Next week, we will do a detailed review of VoiceDream Reader on iPads and Android tablets.

Tech Thursday is written by Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist

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