Friday, September 14, 2012

Whispersync Voice and Visually Impaired Students

We seem to have an unusually high number of visually impaired students this year, so we've been working hard to help the classroom teachers meet their accommodations. Every 8th grader, including those with low-vision, needs to choose one of ten dystopian novels for an upcoming English project. The novels are all titles published in the last year or two, and I can't find enough ILL large-print versions to meet demand.

So, to solve the problem, I've been buying digital versions of the books and putting them on our Kindles. The kids can change the text size on the Kindle, allowing them to view the page at whatever size is best for their eyes. Alone, this solution would be adequate, but this week Amazon released a fantastic tool called Whispersync for Voice. This awesome improvement allows me to start reading the Kindle version of the book and then pick up where I left off in the audio version of the book on a different (or same) device. That means I can stop reading at the beginning of Chapter 2 on my Kindle, and pick up my iPhone to start listening to the book at the beginning of Chapter 2.

Here's how it works:

* Purchase a Kindle book that has an accompanying Whispersync narration. There are 26 free titles to pick from (classics like Moby Dick and Little Women) and almost 15,000 titles in total.

* After purchasing the Kindle book, you'll see a box that says "Now that you own the Kindle book, you can add the professional narration for $X.XX to switch between reading and listening without losing your place." Click the link, and it will take you to Audible.

* If you don't already have an Audible account, you'll need to create one. It's important that you link the Audible account to your Amazon account.

* Purchase the accompanying Audible version of the book.

* Download the Kindle book to your Kindle or other device (iPod, iPad, etc)., and download the audio book (if you're not using a Kindle, you'll have to download the Audible app).

It's pretty seamless. Read on device, and then pick up listening on the other device.

For our population, they're doing their reading AND listening on the same device. When their eyes get tired, they can just seamlessly switch to the audio version.

The only bummer is that it doesn't work on the Kindle Touches we bought 3 months ago, but it DOES work on the Kindle Keyboards we bought two years ago (once we upgraded to software version 3.4). Go figure. According to Amazon, the supported devices include: "Kindle Keyboard with software version 3.4 and greater, Kindle Fire 2nd Generation, and Kindle Fire HD."

An even cooler product with SO MANY educational applications is called "Immersion Reading." This works like the Whispersync Voice described above, but you can read your book as you listen to the audio version, and it will HIGHLIGHT the text as the author reads it aloud. How great would this be for students? The only bummer is that availability is limited to the latest versions of the Kindle Fire.

Have you used Whispersync Voice or Immersion Reading with your students?

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