Reading aloud, assisted by a technology that "captures" the reader's attention on the written word, allows children with reading disabilities to increase their comprehension of a text. This is what emerges from a study conducted jointly by Fondazione Bruno Kessler and the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences of the University of Trento, which involved 40 children aged between 8 and 10. With 'Gary', children on average improve their reading comprehension scores by 24%.
"We have demonstrated that this technology facilitates the comprehension of the text in readers with reading difficulties", explains Massimo Zancanaro, professor at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences of the University of Trento and head of the research group I3 at Fondazione Bruno Kessler. The study involved twenty children aged between 8 and 10 with a diagnosis of dyslexia, and twenty others with typical reading abilities, as a control group: "The improvement is undeniable - continued Zancanaro - compared to audio-only reading support technologies. These technologies do not engage children's attention, they only tend to relieve them of the difficulty of reading a text". The tool that the researchers have optimized - which acts through the automatic adjustment of the audio speed and the guidance of attention on the written text - does not in fact remove the fatigue of reading typical of the dyslexic child, but facilitates it, thus favoring the attentive control and consequently greater understanding.
'Gary' - that is the name of the tool used in the study - is a prototype developed by Fondazione Bruno Kessler. It provides the reading aloud of the text and, at the same time, through an eye tracking device, identifies the reader's gaze on the digital text shown on the display by monitoring whether the reader is looking at the word that follows, which at that point is highlighted. "As hypothesized - concluded the researcher - the use of Gary increases reading comprehension in children with dyslexia compared to a traditional speech synthesis tool, showing an average 24% improvement in reading comprehension scores".
The study, published in the "Journal of Computer Assisted Learning", combined with the refinement and enhancement of the 'Gary' prototype created by FBK, could be the basis for further studies both in the field of dyslexia and in the field of language learning, especially in those foreign languages in which it is difficult to make the connection between the written word and its pronunciation.
The article "Attention-driven read-aloud technology increases reading comprehension in children with reading disabilities", published on 9 February 2021 in the "Journal of Computer Assisted Learning", was written by Gianluca Schiavo, Nadia Mana, Ornella Mich, Massimo Zancanaro and Remo Job.
The article is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcal.12530