BDA study shows Microsoft’s OneNote can boost literacy skills


A small-scale trial involving students at an independent school that specialises in teaching children with special educational needs (SEN) has found that using Immersive Reader, part of Microsoft’s Learning Tools for OneNote, has improved their literacy skills.

The 11-week trial, carried out by the British Dyslexia Association at Knowl Hill School in Woking, Surrey, involved Microsoft loaning Surface Pro 4 tablets installed with OneNote and the Learning Tools add-in to students who had experienced difficulties with reading, spelling and writing.

OneNote is a free virtual notebook that can be used to record and organise users’ thoughts. It syncs in the cloud, enabling users to access their notes any time anywhere, and facilitates group collaboration. The Learning Tools add-in is currently only available for the Windows version.

Immersive Reader enables students to personalise text in OneNote. Students can increase text size and letter spacing, change the font, and vary the contrast by choosing different colour themes; they can add visual cues to help identify syllables, and choose parts of speech — nouns, verbs, adjectives — to highlight in selected text; and they can download different text-to-speech voices and alter the read-back speed.

OneNote also has in-built optical character recognition (OCR), which means students can take an image of a worksheet or notes on a board and export it to OneNote where it’s converted to editable text. Finally, students can dictate directly into OneNote to record ideas and thoughts.

Results from the Knowl Hill school trial showed that the children ‘made more progress than would generally be expected for children of their age over the same time period’ for single word reading, spelling, reading fluency and reading accuracy. The BDA found the same results after tests involving alliteration, rhyme, spoonerisms and non-word reading.

The children made the ‘normally expected rate of progress’ on processing speed, but OneNote had given them ‘more strategies to apply’ during resits of this particular part of the test, which was seen as a positive development.

Overall, 11 out of 16 of the young people in the trial moved from one band of standardised scores into the next band up, which is ‘indicative of potential good improvements in reading comprehension skills’, the BDA notes.

Students and teachers ‘pointed to a number of positive aspects of the tools that helped students with checking mechanisms, independent working and reduction in feeling embarrassed about their mistakes or weaknesses’.

Emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and self-confidence are often key issues for dyslexic young people, who may have experienced a sense of failure within the education system due to their struggles with the acquisition of literacy skills and other related problems. Often for these young people, one of the first steps in helping them is to enable them to believe that they can be successful learners, and this can involve considerable rebuilding of their self-confidence and self-esteem.

The BDA report states.

 Before and after the tests, the children also answered questionnaires on emotional distress, which measured stress, behavioural difficulties, hyperactivity and concentration difficulties, difficulties getting along with other young people, and kind and helpful behaviour.

 In a statement, the BDA said:

We would encourage educators to explore greater uses of technology to meet the needs of young people with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties.

 Although this is a small-scale trial, this project offers some interesting insights into the use of such tools and the potential of these to positively impact factors that lead to improved outcomes for young people. These may be in terms of assistive and supportive features, but also may potentially provide added value in the effectiveness of dyslexia-friendly teaching. Further, extended research would be appropriate, using larger samples and a longer implementation period. This is particularly appropriate given the time required to become familiar with the use of technological tools.

 Ian Fordham, Director of Education at Microsoft UK, said:

Confidence and emotional resilience are crucial parts of the learning process for all children. It’s important that young people believe that they can learn, grow and thrive in the classroom, and giving them the best tools is a big step towards achieving this.

 The results of the BDA’s trial at Knowl Hill School are small scale but very promising and we would welcome a closer look at how OneNote and our wider technology tools can further benefit learning across the curriculum. A key feature of our work at Microsoft is narrowing the achievement gap and supporting inclusion in mainstream and special schools, and we are delighted to have supported this pioneering project with the British Dyslexia Association.


About Contributors

Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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