Educators know that being able to provide students with information in more than one format or mode can help many students improve comprehension. Multimedia software programs are now serving this cognitive need for students whose reading skills are weak. These programs use optical character recognition (OCR) software that turns written text into speech.

Superior reading software programs, such as the four reviewed below, go a step further. They combine reading training with OCR, other sound and visual presentations, and even tactile capabilities.

  1. Co:Writer (http://www.donjohnston.com). Designed to work with word processing and eMail programs, Co:Writer coaches students into putting their thoughts on paper. Essentially, it guesses what words the student might want to use and puts on the screen nine choices, based on the preceding phrase and the first letter of the new word that the student types. It works best for students who can express themselves verbally, but who do not communicate well on paper. The program also is customizable in numerous ways. For example, it has five “dictionaries” of word choices that correspond to different reading levels. Also, a student can develop a unique dictionary by indicating the topic that he or she is writing about. The voice recognition system can be adjusted to male or female voices, as well as by volume, speed, pronunciation, and more.
  2. Earobics 1 for Adolescents and Adults (http://www.earobics.com). This software teaches reading through phonics. It is built upon games of memory, rhyming, and so on. Excellent for people learning English as a second language. Offers different layers of complexity for students at different skill levels.
  3. Lexia Learning Systems (http://www.lexialearning.com). Also a phonics-based program, Lexia begins by assessing a student’s current reading skills and then provides practice exercises geared to that level. The program is extremely student-friendly. For example, the exercises allow a long time between presenting a question and expecting a student answer, which reduces student stress over figuring out the right answer.
  4. Lernout & Hauspie Kurzweil 3000 (http://www.LHSL.com/education). This program takes text selected by a student and reads it back to him after the text is scanned by an OCR. The program highlights the passage that is being read to better emphasize the words and phrasing, and it also links to a dictionary that carries definitions of words that a student highlights.