Using Dragon Naturally Speaking for School Assignments
I wanted to share my son’s experience with using a voice-to-text software, Dragon Naturally Speaking. Writing has always been his worst subject by far. Any writing assignment would immediately be met with complaints, delay and often tears. He hated writing and I would avoid writing lessons because they would take hours for him to complete and would basically ruin our day.
I discovered Dragon Naturally Speaking several months ago and have been using it to write my book as well as this blog. I’m not a great typist and found that dictating allowed me to get my thoughts down on paper much faster and more efficiently than trying to type.
My son is very articulate and expressive when narrating, but he had great difficulty getting his thoughts down on paper. He’s dealt with fine motor skills issues when writing ever since he was a little guy. In fact, he really wasn’t physically able to write until he was around 7. He’s doing much better now, and does even better with cursive than with manuscript, but it would still take hours for him to write a 5-7 sentence paragraph. I’m talking 2-3 hours. Literally.
I feel like he really needs to start writing more, now that he’s in 5th grade. So, I thought I would try an experiment – let him use my headset to dictate his writing assignment and just see how it goes.
First, I instructed him on how he would need to speak clearly and steadily into the microphone. I let him practice a few times. At first, he spoke like a robot – it was actually pretty funny. But then he got the hang of it.
I thought he may have some difficulty using my Dragon Naturally Speaking because it was trained on my voice and speaking cadence. But it adapted to his speech pattern pretty quickly. And then he was off to do his assignment.
His assignment was to summarize a book herecently completed, Wings of Fire, The Lost Heir. As a sidebar, my son is also a reluctant reader and this series has him reading and loving it. I highly recommend the first 5 books to an older reluctant reader, who likes the fantasy genre.
To my surprise, it took my son exactly 40 minutes to complete a full page of double spaced typing. This was over double his writing output in a fraction of the time that it usually takes! He wasn’t exasperated and there were no tears. When I printed his summary for him, he stood, staring at it with pride and disbelief. He couldn’t believe he’d “written” that much and he was clearly proud of himself. I even overheard him telling his sister, “See, this is the kind of work that fifth graders do!”
The next day, I had him read over his paper and mark any corrections he thought he needed to make. I always teach my kids that any writing must be reviewed and edited and they see me editing my own writing as well; so the process of editing is not a big deal and they don’t see it as a time of undue criticism. Instead, they understand it's just part of the process of making one’s writing better.
After he did his own editing, I sat down with him and we went over it together, with me pointing out further edits that he needed to make. Most of the edits were spelling and capitalization related – his grammar is really exceptional. And Dragon did get a few words wrong. He also had a couple of run on sentences that are a mostly a byproduct of dictating. You have to really discipline yourself to speak like you are writing and not like you are talking. That fine tuning will come with time as he uses the program.
After we completed all the hand editing, he then had to make those changes on the computer to complete his assignment. And then print and read again one last time to try to capture all the necessary edits.
This may seem like a rather long process but it’s what I call teaching a kid how to write. In my homeschool, we focus on quality, not quantity when it comes to writing. We have moved much slower than they do in school when it comes to learning to write because it is such an important life skill.
I have been very happy with the outcome of our first foray into using a voice-to-text software. We were able to accomplish a writing assignment quickly, with a better attitude and with better results than ever before. And while he will continue working on his hand writing skills, his lack of said skills will no longer hold him back in developing his writing skills.
NOTE: You’ll find mixed reviews on the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice-to-text software. It has worked wonderfully for me, but I think you have to make sure you have a computer that can handle it well. I have a newer (a little over a year old) computer and we use a nice headset that I’d purchased for business purposes, and which I found to be better than the one that came with the software. Be sure to read the system requirements carefully before purchasing the software and make sure you have a good headset.