www.texthelp.com Retail price: Single user, $645. Site license, five-packs, and volume discounts available.
By Carol S. Holzberg
Designed for students who struggle with reading and writing, the latest version of Read&Write Gold from Texthelp Systems offers a feature-rich assistive-technology tool kit that benefits all students, not just the at-risk or learning disabled.
Quality and Effectiveness: What distinguishes this product from other assistive-technology software is that all its tools are accessed from a floating toolbar. The toolbar groups reading, writing, research, and study-skills options according to function. It works with Microsoft Word, Adobe Reader/Acrobat, and other common, everyday applications and with popular Internet browsers, like Firefox, Internet Explorer (32-bit only), and Safari. It also works with third-party applications such as Study Island, NWEA MA P assessments, Accelerated Reader, and DAIS Y Reader books.
Unfortunately, highlighter options for online Web pages do not work with Firefox or Safari. Finally, Read&Write Gold does not work with Arc90’s Readability, an important free Web tool that removes advertisements, pop-ups, and other distractions from Web pages.
Ease of Use: Read&Write Gold is packed with helpful tools. Read&Write Gold has a built-in Spelling Checker; it also assists with writing by integrating a word-prediction tool that makes helpful words and phrases pop up. There’s a talking calculator for basic math operations and a picture dictionary for visual reinforcement of meaning. Other useful tools are a Verb Checker to aid in conjugating verbs, a Sounds Like tool to help with puzzling homophones, and a Fact Finder that uses the Search tool designated during program setup to locate more information about a particular keyword.
Creative Use of Technology: The software has many tools, so users will appreciate that the program lets you display as many or as few as you need. Another important built-in option is a PDF Aloud tool, which lets you open PDF-formatted files so Read&Write Gold can read selected text aloud. A text-to-speech Speech Maker tool turns as many as 20,000 characters of selected text into a WAV or MP3 audio file.
Suitability for Use in a School Environment: The program is costly, but its accommodations for struggling learners can also benefit mainstream students. For example, it makes curriculum materials available not only in print form but also electronically, with text-to-speech access, dictionary options, supporting visual illustrations, and the ability to turn the materials into audio files for outputting to the Web or a handheld device. These features give students more flexible control over what and how they learn.
¦ Product is available for both Mac and Windows.
¦ The feature-rich application is multipurpose, offering tools for all students, not just those with special needs.
¦ A Teacher Toolkit allows teachers to tailor features and settings to a wide range of individuals or groups.