Struggling 1st grade readers improve with the help of OneNote Learning Tools

A young student reads text with Immersive Reader in OneNote on his Surface Pro 4.

I teach first grade. But even if I taught 6th grade or high school, if a child struggles with comprehension and fluency, chances are that the student cannot recognize basic sight words. Just think about this for a moment. If a child cannot read the high frequency words (for example, Fry words or Dolch words), how can he or she remember what the sentence is saying while they struggle through each and every word in that sentence? After seeing OneNote Learning Tools at the US Forum in Denver, CO, I began dreaming of using Immersive Reader to help my struggling students with reading. I wrote and obtained a grant from the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI) to purchase a Surface Pro 4 and began my Action Research.

Area of Focus and/or Research Question:


The area of focus for the Action Research project was reading fluency. If a child is a struggling reader, he/she reads slowly and spends a great deal of time decoding words which, in turn, leads to poor comprehension. Acceptable rates of fluency may be acquired with repeated practice of reading passages. My research question was, “Will independent practice with Microsoft’s Learning Tools in OneNote supported by small group differentiated instruction result in a 25% or greater improvement in reading fluency rates among students performing in stanines 1, 2, or 3 on the Measure of Academic Performance (MAP) assessment?”

As the Action Research study evolved, I realized that the students who needed intervention were having trouble with just recognizing basic sight words, such as “said”, “the” or “what.” In addition to adding passages to Immersive Reader, so that the children could individually have repetitive practice, I began creating a file on OneNote for the six to eight sight words they were supposed to learn weekly. In first grade, by the end of the school year, they are to read 125 basic high frequency words. What happened seemed like a complete miracle to me!

The four students in the study were reading all of the assigned words by Friday of each week. Not only were they fluently reading these words each week, but they were retaining the recognition of the high frequency words as they were again tested on summative assessments.

A young student reads text with Immersive Reader in OneNote on his Surface Pro 4.The students were identified as Student 1, Student 2, Student 3, and Student 4 for privacy purposes. They were selected for the study as follows:

  • Students (as identified by the beginning of the year MAP assessments) needing reading interventions were targeted.
  • I reviewed our reading program’s Benchmark tests for reading fluency and further targeted students.
  • The students were already receiving Tier 2 RTI interventions.
  • The students were tested weekly for sight word fluency as a formative assessment.
  • The students were also tested every six weeks for sight word fluency on a Benchmark Assessment.
  • The students were tested each quarter for sight word recognition as a part of their progress report.

The ARI Action Research resulted in the following:

  • Students dramatically increased in their sight word recognition.
  • All 4 students had 80 percent or greater ability to read their assigned sight words.
  • One student, who only knew 3 percent of the sight word list for 1st grade in September, now can recognize 100 percent of the words to automaticity.
  • On the Reading MAP test (from beginning to the end of the school year), Student 1 increased 16 points, Student 2 increased 17 points, Student 3 increased 19 points, and Student 4 increased 11 points. This is an amazing double digit growth for students who are in Tier 2 for reading interventions.

In my view, the value of using OneNote and the Immersive Reader for teaching reading fluency is that:

  1. It is easy. Simply open OneNote and select a new tab. Name the tab. Then type each word (one per line). Select “Immersive Reader.” Use the play button to listen to the words. Repeat as necessary.
  2. It is fast. I can type these 6 to 8 words in less than a minute.
  3. It is time saving. Instead of me sitting one-by-one with each student and using flash cards, I can send them to the Surface Pro 4 with headphones, and they control how many times they practice reading and listening to the words. I am now free to work with other students in small groups.
  4. It is repetitive. Sight words need repetition for students to learn to automaticity.
  5. It is research-based with my Action Research project.

Why is this important? Over 50 percent of the words used in print today are the 125 sight words from the first-grade curriculum. Think about that for a minute.  If a child masters sight word reading, he or she will have a firm foundation for a lifetime of reading.

One afternoon in Denver, Co, I was inspired to discover a new way to teach struggling readers after my introduction to Immersive Reader at the US MIEE. The success of the program has been shared at two Summits sponsored by the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative, which thousands viewed internationally. At the E2 Education Exchange, the project earned the favor of Canadian students who voted it as a “Kid’s Choice” award. Finally, the students at my school displayed this project at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY, at the state Student Technology Leadership Program state competition, where over 11,000 people were in attendance.

A group of female students posing with their glossy OneNote Avenger capes.

I’m very happy and impressed with Immersive Reader for OneNote. A program this easy and powerful doesn’t come along often. That’s why technology is our superpower in my classroom!


Browse affordable devices starting at $219