How OneNote and Immersive Reader promote independence and accessibility for students with autism

It all started last October. I was well into my first year of teaching second, third and fourth grade in a self-contained classroom for students with autism. My focus was to equip students with the social, academic and emotional skills needed to be members of their community. I was implementing eight behavior plans, three reading interventions, two math interventions, and was responsible for eight Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). It was a lot.

When I received an email that said my district was transitioning to the Microsoft Education suite, I wasn’t thrilled. In my mind, the Microsoft products were just another tool that would not meet the changing needs of the autistic students I taught.

I went to a Microsoft training, but still questioned how these products would meet the needs of my students. We only had three computers in my classroom, and my students were still learning how to type. How were they going to navigate complex programs like OneNote, PowerPoint, and Sway? How was I going to fit in the time to teach my students to use technology when they had more pressing social and academic needs? I decided I wasn’t going to implement the products.

 

Technology as a tool, not a barrier

 

Fast forward a few weeks and my class was working on a writing assignment. The goal of the assignment was simple—use visuals and adapted writing strategies, state an opinion, and support it with at least three reasons using complete sentences. I had graphic organizers, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) pieces, adapted lined paper, and a plan.

My students wrote two drafts with one-on-one support and explicit modeling, but one student was struggling. This student had a difficult time expressing his thoughts verbally, let alone on paper. He’d written two sentences in one week. It was difficult for me to figure out how to help him.

Then I thought of the Microsoft products that had been shared with me. It couldn’t hurt to try out OneNote with this student. So I put a computer in front of him and was blown away.

Without any prompting, he started typing. Not random letters, not a few simple words. He was able to write full, grammatically correct sentences. I couldn’t believe it.

The first time I used OneNote with the student who started the technology takeover in my classroom.

Seven months later, he’s made strides that are nothing short of incredible. His reading has increased nine levels. He’s gone from doing single-digit addition to multiplication. He’s playing at recess, talking to his peers, and smiling from ear to ear.

None of that would have been possible without the tools that Microsoft put into my classroom.

Here’s how OneNote and Immersive Reader help my students find success and give them access to the world around them.

 

Increased independence in reading

 

OneNote and Microsoft Learning Tools – like the picture dictionary and Immersive Reader – help my students read independently. They experience difficulty decoding words using traditional phonics strategies because English isn’t a consistent language. Microsoft Learning Tools provides my students with appropriate supports that can be increased or decreased to meet their needs.

For example, I have a student who benefits from visual prompts to read because he has difficulties applying decoding strategies on his own. I turned on his picture dictionary in Immersive Reader and taught him how to use it as a decoding strategy. During guided reading or independent reading, he is able to use the picture dictionary as a decoding tool, increasing his independence and access to the material.

If a student needs fewer prompts, I turn the picture dictionary off and teach my students how to use Immersive Reader when they are stuck on a tricky word.

 

        

A student uses Immersive Reader’s picture dictionary to decode a word.

After practicing technology decoding strategies in guided reading, we focus on comprehension. After multiple readings of a text, students answer questions using Forms in OneNote. I create a form unique to students’ needs and IEP goals, with the option to use them later with another student. These forms include pictures, answer choices, fill-in-the-blank statements – the possibilities are endless.

When students answer the questions, I immediately get the data in an Excel sheet that I can use to plan future instruction, update progress notes, and write IEP goals. Forms decreases the time I spend planning questions, increases my data collection, and creates a sustainable and economic way to test comprehension (no more copies!).

Forms can include accessibility supports such as pictures, answer choices, and read aloud features.

 

Writing

 

OneNote provides a way for me to differentiate writing materials to help my students be more successful. OneNote is not just an add-on or finishing tool my students use to type their final draft. I use OneNote to create personalized graphic organizers so my students can access writing independently. I highlight text, provide sentence stems, or write questions that promote independence for my students. For my pre-readers, these supports help because Immersive Reader reads them the supports.

Making a differentiated writing prompt in OneNote takes two minutes, saving me time and resources (like ink and paper) and can be the difference between a student having access or struggling with the assignment.

 

Examples of differentiated writing prompts. From left to right: A student uses a text in OneNote and a speech to text application to complete a graphic organizer. An example of a differentiated prompt that includes sentence stems and highlighting to indicate where students need to write. An example of another prompt that includes numbers to prompt the student to write the sentences in order.

 

Self-regulation

 

OneNote promotes self-regulation in my classroom when we use it to display visual schedules that help students transition to different parts of the room independently. My students use the “to do” feature in OneNote to check off centers as they transition, and they reset their to do list at the end of the day. In addition to promoting self-regulation, this is teaching a crucial life skill that my students need—how to make a list and cross off completed items.

An example of a visual schedule in OneNote that increases self-regulation and independence.

 

Parent communication

 

One of the best things about OneNote is the parent link share. I use this feature to show parents exactly what their kids are doing in the classroom. This link provides parents view-only access to their child’s notebook, and they can see everything they are reading in guided reading, notes from science, and any notes I leave in the parent communication tab.

This keeps parents up to date, involves them in their child’s learning, and provides an instant answer to the “What should I be working on at home?” question. It’s easy for parents to navigate, and even easier for them to help their child at home.

 

Technology in the real world

 

Microsoft OneNote and Immersive Reader give my students tools to be successful in the classroom, in the community, and in college and career. Regardless of their reading level, they can access books, newspaper articles, news updates, and job applications with Immersive Reader. OneNote provides them the platform to self-regulate and organize their daily schedules, assignments, and calendars.

Remember that student who began this technology transformation in my classroom? He is now my go-to technology expert when other students have questions or difficulties using Microsoft technologies. With the help of my principal, my classroom is now one-to-one with technology.

Our school’s first Skype a Scientist session that promoted inclusion between my class and a general education fourth grade class.

Students are able to use the Microsoft products in personalized ways that meet their needs. I am now a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert who is passionate about using technology to promote accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities. My school is on our way to becoming a Microsoft Showcase school and is a more inclusive school as Microsoft Learning Tools allows all students to work side-by-side, regardless of ability. Thanks to Microsoft, my students’ lives are better because they have access to 21st Century tools that will help them navigate the world.

Megan Callahan is a special education teacher in Washington, D.C. She writes about how she includes technology in her classroom at thespedcreative.com