Company: Don Johnston, Inc., 26799 West Commerce Drive, Volo, IL 60073. Phone: (800) 999-4660; internet: www.donjohnston.com.
Price: $299 per computer for one to four computers. $209.30 per computer for five to nine computers. $200.33 per computer for 10 to 19 computers. $191.36 per computer for 20 to 49 computers. Discount pricing options for 50 or more computers may go as low as $74.75 per computer. Unlimited site license options are available with take-home privileges for students and teachers.
Audience: Any grade for which appropriate grade-level reading etexts or internet sites are available. The program is probably best suited for use in grades 3 or 4 through adult.
Format: CD-ROM, Mac/Windows.
Minimum System Requirements:
For Windows systems: A Pentium 4 processor with 400MB disk space and 512MB RAM (for standard installation) and Windows XP or Vista.
For Mac systems: A G5 processor with 1.6GHz disk space, 512MB RAM, and OS 10.4 or 10.5.
For both platforms: An internet browser, Adobe Acrobat (available at no cost) for some of the support files, a 256-color monitor with 1024 x 768 resolution, a CD-ROM drive (8x), a color printer, and speakers.
Description: The Read:OutLoud 6 text reader provides a framework and tools that help individuals with reading disabilities to read etexts and other materials in common, accessible book formats (PDF, NIMAS, DAISY 3, Microsoft “Save as Daisy,” Bookshare files, RTF, TXT, HTML, and XML). The program includes a built-in web browser and can be used on networks or with individual machines.
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Ease of Use A
Product Support A
Installation/Access: I installed Read:OutLoud 6 on several newer Windows machines. The installation process is standard, intuitive, and easy. On-screen instructions guide the installation. Installation/Access Rating: A
Content/Features: Read:OutLoud 6 can read books in a number of formats without converting the text from its original form. This is especially helpful because the conversion process can sometimes limit the functionality of the results.
When launched, the Read:OutLoud 6 text reader looks like a web browser and opens at the Don Johnston website’s Accessible Books section for access to 18 ebooks from various sources on different subjects and grade levels. Some of these texts are illustrated.
Before working on this review, I had not looked at etexts for a number of years. I was surprised by what I saw when examining those recommended by Don Johnston. There were the basic etexts that I had expected, but there were also some profusely illustrated texts and some with multiple links, navigation aides, and very nice layouts. Some of these texts also took advantage of HTML coding for a very sophisticated appearance and excellent readability.
A few of the etexts were from Wikibooks and Wikijunior (http://en.wikibooks.org), Wikimedia communities designed to create a free library of educational books that anyone can edit, much like Wikipedia.
Additional reading resources are available via links from the Don Johnston site’s Accessible Books section, resources mentioned in the text reader’s supporting documentation, and the Wikimedia communities.
Bookshare members can use Read:OutLoud 6 to click on any of the 50,000 ebooks and periodicals stored in the online Bookshare library to instantly open the text without “unpacking” it. (Bookshare is a nonprofit organization partially funded through the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.)
In addition to presenting etexts in various file formats in a very readable form, Read:OutLoud 6 provides a number of tools that facilitate their reading and use. The first and most important feature is a speaker button that allows the text to be read aloud to the students, with highlights, when clicked. Read:OutLoud 6 can also read webpages, as well as the commands and buttons on pages and on a web browser.
The text reader uses Acapela Group’s voices, including five voices that come with the program; it will use other voices if present in the system. The default voice is a bit robotic and occasionally mispronounces a word, but it is generally very human-sounding, clear, and pleasant.
Read:OutLoud 6 fosters improved comprehension with a note-taking and outlining system that allows students to create new note subtopics with the click of a button. The system can color code notes via a click on one of three colored marker buttons. The words for the notes come from highlighted text. When a marker button is clicked, the highlighted text is transferred to the notes section where it can be modified. The notes can be saved and printed.
Dozens of online templates are available for notes, various reports, and worksheets, including book reports and vocabulary exercises as well as reading strategies such as KWL and SQ3R. Other features include links to a Franklin talking dictionary and a bibliographer area that helps students document their notes for reports.
A Solo Sign In feature offers a basic program to help teachers manage student use, enable access, and assign passwords as needed.
All in all, Read:OutLoud 6 is well-designed, pleasant, and effective to use. As usual with Don Johnston products, the supporting information, materials, and ideas are outstanding. Content/Features Rating: A
Ease of Use: It does take a bit of time to learn all of the features of Read:OutLoud 6, including the outline and note-taking functions and the internet use of the text reader. The directions, navigation, and buttons are clear and intuitive, however. Experienced computer users should have no problems at all. Ease of Use Rating: A
Product Support: The product support for Read:OutLoud is outstanding. Directions for getting technical support are clearly printed on the package, the CD-ROM includes a number of help documents, and clear help is provided within the product. In addition, technical support is offered online, via a toll-free telephone number, and by email.
A number of online product workshops and “virtual coaching sessions” are available. The online “Train-in-30” tutorial is designed to train teachers to use the program in 30 minutes. Product Support Rating: A
Recommendation: I highly recommend the Read:OutLoud 6 accessible text reader. It is an effective tool to help students with reading problems use a variety of resources (internet-based and others) and improve reading.
This text reader is useful for everybody and should be a part of every school’s reading program.
The unlimited site license is very cost-effective and can help schools save even more with features that encourage access to inexpensive—and often free—etexts and other internet materials. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Charles Doe, media specialist, Hastings Area Schools, Central Elementary School, Hastings, MI.