OneNote and Learning Tools helped us out of a setback and into a transformed classroom

Video for OneNote and Learning Tools helped us out of a setback and into a transformed classroom

For most teachers, the death of their primary work device can be catastrophic. For me, it was a surprising step one toward a transformed classroom.

My previous device crashed and burned in the middle of 2nd advisory. Sure, we can back up with storage drives and access cloud capabilities, but there is nothing like the trusted comfort of your primary work computer. When mine died after 6 years, it was hurtful. Panic set in. All kinds of questions filled my head: When am I going to have time to research which devices best meet the demands of my teacher life? When am I going to have time to learn a new piece of technology?

After weeks of reading and researching the latest technology devices available to teachers and students, I settled on a Microsoft Surface (completely changing from my previous iOS system). At the time, I had no clue how this decision would completely revolutionize my classroom and begin a school-wide journey to improve teaching and learning. When winter break came – along with my new Surface – I started exploring the Microsoft Educator Community. After taking a few courses on OneNote, I wanted to join others who had made the shift to paperless classrooms. That decision would revolutionize my instructional practice in close reading, guided reading, data collection, and it would spark a flame that would affect our entire school community. (You can read about our school’s transformation here.)

Using Learning Tools in OneNote, such as Immersive Reader, Dictation, and Audio, makes learning more equitable, accessible, and engaging. It’s providing many more opportunities for my students to practice and apply 21st century skills.


Close Reading and Immersive Reader


Understanding and analyzing complex text can be challenging for my struggling readers. Immersive Reader is providing a great deal of support in meeting their needs. With Immersive Reader, my students have been able to listen to the text distributed to their Class Notebook, as many times as they want. This has given my struggling readers a greater chance to successfully identify the evidence they need to answer text-based questions.

Immersive Reader also supports my students through syllable control. By turning it on, students seize control of words they struggle pronouncing. This also supports explicit guided reading instruction by reinforcing decoding skills and strategies, taught at the guided reading table. I have also witnessed students getting excited when they use Line Focus, which increases concentration by allowing them to focus on one or a few lines at a time. It is making a tremendous difference in helping them analyze complex text.

I recently experienced a situation that further supported my vision for a paperless classroom. Without any guidance or direction from me, some of my students began using the Audio feature to answer and explain text-based questions. When I asked, “What made you all use Audio?” one student told me, “I didn’t think I would have enough time to finish typing, so I tried to talk it out.  I thought that would be quicker because I knew I had other classwork I needed to finish.” The student feedback from this conversation helped me to see the impact Learning Tools was having on my students. They used what was available and adapted it to meet the learning objective independently, using 21st century skills.


Guided Reading and OneNote Class Notebook


OneNote is also redefining my role as instructor to collaborator. We are taking a more 21st century approach to increase fluency. For instance, instead of students reading fluency passages to me on paper and annotating my notes on another, we share both tasks together.

Using Class Notebook leads us to decide on a word-per-minute goal, after which students use the Audio feature to record themselves reading. While the student reads, I annotate any miscues using digital ink. Since this process happens simultaneously, it allows us to engage in a quick debrief about their reading practice. They are given as many opportunities as needed to reread/record the passage again, but not before reflecting on their first recording and analyzing the feedback I wrote on their passage. What’s been so remarkable about this is my students:

  • Have real-time access to my annotations, allowing for immediate feedback
  • Can listen to their first recording, reflect on their practice, and adjust accordingly
  • Complete as many recordings as they wish until they are satisfied with their work

In many cases, they are meeting or exceeding expectations. The advantage of real-time feedback and tangible self-reflection is that it empowers students to take more ownership and understanding of their own learning. The implications for me as a teacher have been:

  • Using audio recordings as data to better customize instructional decisions that meet individual student needs
  • Sharing performance data in this way with parents can present them with a better understanding of their child’s reading abilities and how to support them at home
  • Sharing student data in this way with colleagues and leadership has given more credibility to and interest in technology integration at our school


One class and one big impact


My students and I are now on an exciting journey together. Along the way we found tools such as Immersive Reader, Dictation, and Audio in Class Notebook, all of which are helping us redefine what learning works best for us as individuals and as a community. Because of those tools, student engagement and successful learning outcomes are on the rise, and the application of 21st century skills is a daily practice. We are still at the beginning of our journey, but we are not alone. Our experience had such a tremendous impact that it moved our entire school community into becoming a Microsoft School, now working toward becoming a Microsoft Showcase School.

To learn more about Microsoft Education and our tools and technology that help foster inclusion and support personalizing learning for every student, click here. You can also learn more from Merlyne Graves during our next Facebook Live Hack the Classroom special event, live from ISTE in Chicago.

Click here for free STEM resources