Do You Know Alex? Do Your Students??


Alex resides in everyone’s MLTI computer, actually in every Apple computer.  He has some friends: Bruce, Fred, Kathy, Vicki, and Victoria.  They are the voices of the text to speech application found in the Speech preference in the Systems Preferences. I know this information is old hat for a lot of readers so I invite you folks to go browse other postings in this blog–there’s a lot to explore!

This post is for readers who would love to show their students how to

  • have their writing read back to them when they are revising or editing
  • have difficult reading assignments read aloud

I’m going to proceed with screen shots* and text as if you don’t know anything about System Preferences.

1. Click on the little apple in the upper left hand corner of your screen.  A drop down menu appears. Highlight and click on System Preferences.  I remember the first time I clicked on System Preferences–I was sure I would mess up some vital setting–never have, so don’t worry!

Little Apple Menu

2. When this screen opens up, look for the Speech application.  It has a microphone for an icon.

System Preferences

3. Click on the Text to Speech option on the top and this dialog box will pop up.  You can listen to the different voices, but Alex is a favorite because it’s so human sounding.

Click in the third box which says “Speak  selected text when key is pressed”.  Then click on “Set Key”.  A new dialog box will appear.

4. Click on OK.  Notice that the command that brings Alex into the room is Shift S.  I find if I hit the shift key  first and then the S, all will be well.

Just Click OK!

Now bring up a piece of writing from a file.  Highlight what you want to hear and abracadabra, Alex will read it back to you so you can edit with both your ears and your eyes.  Hear a mistake–simply hit Shift S and Alex will stop and you can edit.  Highlight more text and hit Shift S and Alex resumes.  I’ve just had Alex read back this posting to me!  I also just tested  it with a Huffington Post article to make sure it also worked on webpages.

One caution–while the Shift S key is activated, it is impossible to type a capital S.  However you can set the key to anything you want to avoid that little problem.

Think about how this will help all students access a rich and vibrant curriculum.

  • Students who may have reading disabilities can simply plug in their earphones, activate Alex, and use their auditory strengths to do research or read a digitized textbook of novel.
  • Students will be more willing to revise and edit their writing when they can listen for as well as look for ways to improve the quality of their writing.
  • Students with sight issues can more easily “read” the same material as their classmates.

One last thing–Do you realize that loads of short “How To’s” are in the MLTI Minute section of iTunes?   Here’s how to get there:

1. Go to iTunes in your dock.  Look for this little box in the upper right hand corner of your screen.  Click on K-12. iTunesU is free to everyone–iTunes is free download.

2. Click on Maine

3. Click on Maine Learning Technology Initiative

4. Click on MLTI Minute

5. Browse the list of episodes–there are over 40 and the MLTI folks add to them all of the time.  This is a fabulous example of differentiation  in professional development!  Thank you MLTI!!!

*Screen shots are pictures of what is on your monitor screen.  You can use the Grab application  on your laptop,

Grab icon

or you can use a series of keystrokes: command, shift, 4. You will see a cross with a circle –use it to highlight what you want to take a screen shot of.  Once you let go of the mouse, you will hear a click.  The screen shot has been taken–very cool and useful!


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