Sunday, September 8, 2013

5 Tips to Start Using Dragon Dictation in the Classroom

I can probably make the assumption that anyone who has an Apple device (or Android) has heard of Dragon Dictation.  If you are into assistive technology, then you probably have heard of Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Well, if I haven't mentioned your name, then I'll let you in on something really cool for people of all sorts.  Hands down, the Dragon Dictation app is the best speech to text program out there.

Back in 2003, I sat in on a half day in-service learning the Dragon Naturally Speaking software to use with high school students in special education, specifically those with learning disabilities (typically 3rd grade reading level and probably worse in writing).  I think I started with version 3 and now, in 2013, they are up to version 12.  So what does that say?  It's getting better and better.  Okay, in a nutshell, to use the computer software you had to install it onto your computer and hook up headphones and a microphone.  Then, you had to complete the training and you were all set.  Coming from me, that sounds easy.  Well, it wasn't with special needs students.  You see, the software was developed for all sorts of people from doctors, business people, students, and ordinary people.  The training required a lot of patience from the user and lots of practice.  The key to the whole program was learning the commands and also speaking clearly and naturally so that the software could decode your speech.  Honestly, my student's success was much lower than I had hoped.   I mean, the potential of having students who couldn't read or write very well to be able to speak their compositions was a great idea.  The problem was that their frustration tolerance was short as the program made many mistakes.  Don't get me wrong, the program worked well for me.  In fact, I became such a pro that I would lean back in my chair with my headphones on and speak my therapy notes into my computer.  Big time bonus for my fingers.

So, that brings us to 2013.  I've trained several students and teachers on how to use the Dragon Naturally Speaking software in their classrooms.  Same type of results.  It takes a lot of practice to get it right.  Plus, the students have to be in an area of privacy so that they can talk out loud.  Then along came  the ol' iPad....and iPhones....and iPod Touches.  Most of my classrooms have at least one iPad and several students have their own iPhones or iPod Touches.  And lo and behold, Dragon has a FREE app called Dragon Dictation.  So now we have multiple opportunities and we have carryover into the real world.  Let me tell you, from my experience, Dragon Dictation works much better than the much more expensive, full computer software!  Who would've guessed?

Here are some tips to get your students (and you) started with dictating to Dragon Dictation:
  • Start slow and easy.  Have your students practice by reciting rote memory verses (Pledge of Allegiance, days of the week, nursery rhymes, poems, song lyrics, jokes, and etc.).  Pull a student up to your desk, read questions from a worksheet, and have him answer the questions using Dragon Dictation.
  • Practice while texting.  Well, we know kids like to text.  Guess what kids who can't read or write do well?  Text.  They can dictate and then copy/paste into a text message.  It's great, practical practice.
  • Speak punctuation marks.  This not only helps with the dictation, it helps students practice using correct punctuation.  "I like pepperoni comma mushroom comma and sausage pizza period."  You can find Dragon Commands Cheat Sheets HERE.
  • Have fun with the mistakes.  You might have seen some of the auto-correct fails on the internet.  If you have, you'll see how sometimes computers don't always output what we input.  This is a great opportunity to check for C.O.P.S. (capitalization, organization, punctuation, and spelling).  I'll bet that this fits into your curricular standards, right?  At this point, don't worry about mistakes.  Get some substance and then fix the errors.
  • Keep your frustration level low.  If it is difficult, then take a break.  Figure out why it isn't working well.  Are you speaking naturally (not like a robot)?  The program works better when it hears groups of words rather than one at a time.  Are you speaking too fast?  Not loud or clear enough?  Think of a newscaster.  Enunciate.  If you feel like throwing the iPad, then step away for awhile.  Seriously, though, I don't have many problems with the app as I did with the full computer software.  Keep at it!  You'll get it with practice.