Microsoft Learning Tools: Where Independence Is Free For ALL Of Us

reach out learning tools

  • Remember last year, or the year before, when students who couldn’t read called the teacher over to come read it to them…whether it was a text, an assessment, or even the directions?
  • Remember not long ago when students submitted rough drafts a dozen times, returned by the teacher for corrections again and again because the drafts were still riddled with errors that were truly unintentional – the student just hadn’t noticed them?
  • Remember how just the other day, teachers and classroom aides acted as scribes for students who had difficulty writing?
  • Remember when – ages ago – a student didn’t know a word’s meaning, we sent him to go look it up in a classroom dictionary? Remember how that “stoppage in play” totally interfered with the flow necessary for comprehension?
  • Remember how teachers would prompt students again and again to “just follow along” because they always lost their place when text was being shared or read in class?
  • Remember how it was a struggle for some of those students whose families speak different languages at home? Remember when those English Language Learners who still didn’t know every word, phrase, or colloquialism had their own special teacher – or even left class to go to another room?
  • Remember the time, it seems like only yesterday, when teachers were at the copy machine enlarging text and then highlighting key parts so that students who had trouble seeing it were handed their own special copies in class…just for them?
  • Remember back when some students had to pull out index cards or bookmarks to read in class, because too much text on a page made it impossible to focus? Remember how sometimes the teacher just copied chunks of text on individual photocopied pages to reduce visual distractions?
  • Remember how stigmatizing it all seemed…it was all done with good intention. It was all meant to help.  And it all relied on students needing PEOPLE to help them achieve success.

Thank goodness those days are gone!  Thank goodness for Microsoft’s Learning Tools.  If you are in education: teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, therapists, specialists, paraprofessionals, and even parents…the most critical thing that you should do is to learn about Learning Tools, and then show ALL your students how to use them.

First of all, everyone needs to know that Microsoft Learning Tools are free – completely free – for everyone in the world.  This is not a special license, or a paid service, or a subscription, or only something that certain schools have.  And yes, even if your school is a “Google school”, you can still use Learning Tools.

Secondly, I mentioned teaching ALL your students how to use Learning Tools.  I mean that.  These are not just tools to help students with special needs or disabilities or who require accommodations.  All students – all people – can benefit from knowing that there are helpful tools built into their computers or devices.  A tool by definition is just something that makes a task easier.  I used two Learning Tools to write this article.  First, I used the Dictation feature because I work faster with speech to text capabilities.  Don’t you?  I also like to get my thoughts out verbally and then go back to tweak or edit later.  Second, I used the Read Aloud feature and had this whole text read back to me (several times).  I listened for errors – typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, omissions, etc.  I was able to change the sound of the Read Aloud voice and also the speed at which it was read to me.  When I heard something that didn’t sound right, I stopped and fixed it.  It’s the best editing tool I’ve ever used.  (Bonus tip: I often use the Read Aloud feature with my Outlook emails, too…I have long ones read aloud to me while I do paperwork or some other task.)

read aloud feature.jpg

I’m writing this in English and I’m a native English-speaking person, but what if you’re not?  What if you don’t understand parts of this?  Please let me direct your attention back to that ribbon above.  Look at that Language section of the ribbon.  Push a button, and this whole document is accessible in dozens of different global languages – and that list is growing!  Accessibility is a HUGE focus for all of Microsoft products.  Your ELL students can stay in the class, push a button, and be included.

translator.jpg

Learning Tools also has an invaluable tool called Picture Dictionary.  It’s not just for elementary, or special education, or non-native language speakers – it’s for anyone who comes across a word in text that they don’t know!  That certainly happens to me, and I’m pretty sure it happens to ALL of us from time to time.  Don’t run for a dictionary, and don’t open a new tab to find one of those online dictionaries with gobs of big words and parts of speech and definitions that still often don’t make sense.  Just open Learning Tools Immersive Reader, click on the word, and a picture appears.  There’s also a reader button on that picture that will pronounce the word…another ability I’m grateful for from time to time!

picture dictionary.jpg

There are other invaluable features in Learning Tools depending on your students’ needs.  Show it all to them.  Teach them all to access what they need when they need it.  Let them turn on the Line Reader to focus.  Let them turn on the Syllabication feature to help them “sound it out” or the Parts of Speech feature to let them know exactly what kind of word they’re trying to read.

line reader      syllables & parts of speech.jpg

These are tools that STUDENTS can turn on or use, WITHOUT asking another person to help, WITHOUT calling someone to their desk, and WITHOUT drawing attention to themselves.  They’re free, they’re embedded, and once students know that they’re there and how to access them, they are empowered to learn better.  I need to say that again:  They are empowered to learn better.

When you need a little help to do something, you either reach out for a person or a tool.  Give your students the gift of independence.  Show them the gift of Microsoft Learning Tools.

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Endnote: I wrote this whole article in Microsoft Word – both the desktop and the online version.  I generally do this rather than writing directly in my blog platform because I truly and honestly like to take advantage of the Learning Tools and other features that Microsoft has made available.  I then copy/paste it into my online blog.

Presenters:  If anyone has an upcoming opportunity to present Learning Tools, please feel free to use and reference this blog post.  The “Remember” questions at the top are sure to get a hearty dialog started in your presentation, which will make the magic of Learning Tools all the more powerful once you demonstrate it.  If you’d like for me to share the Word version of this article with you so that you can use it as the interactive piece for your presentation, please just contact me and I’ll email it to you!

As always, I’m available here at my WordPress site (wordpress.kerszi.com), on Twitter as @kerszi and on my Facebook page called “Integration Innovation”.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

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Type Accented Letters on iPads

📱Micro-tip: If you have an iPad or iPhone, did you know that if you “long hold” on some of the keyboard letter keys, you get variations of that letter with accents? If I long hold “n”, I can type señor. If I long-hold the “u” key, I get über-excited! If I long-hold the “e” key, I see this:

This is especially great to know if you have students and families from other countries, but I think it’s a wonderful tip for all teachers and students to know. Add that to your edtech resumé! 😉

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @kerszi or on my Facebook page called Integration Innovation!

Accessibility Oooh & Aaahs With Microsoft’s Learning Tools

It warms my heart and brings me joy to see that glowing joy on a Special Education teachers’ face exclaiming, “We can DO that?”, “I didn’t know that was even A THING”,  “I never even THOUGHT of it”, “NO WAY!!!”… and the unforgettable, “This is like a miracle!”

This new phenomena is spurred by some mandatory PD that all of our teachers in grades 3-5 needed to attend this month.  I was teaching them the wonders of Microsoft’s OneNote Class Notebook.  That in itself was an extraordinary mind-blowing tool for teachers who JUST entered the world of teaching in a 1:1 environment.  For now, I’m thrilled to report on an unexpected byproduct of those PD sessions.

The Special Education teachers (and many Basic Skills and even general education teachers) were blown away by the Learning Tools that are embedded in Microsoft’s OneNote and Class Notebook.  In the Learning Tools, there is a remarkable ribbon tool called “Immersive Reader”.  I am both a former Special Ed teacher and a crazy-avid EdTech junkie, so I thought it was maybe just me who was awestruck by the way these tools make text accessible to all students.  The text-to-speech alone can bring tears to my eyes when I see it being used independently by a struggling reader.  The other options – font size, spacing, and color readability options can also be set by the learner to meet his/her own learning needs.  I ADORE that students may choose to speed up the reading voice or slow it down if processing is difficult!  I marvel when a student who has difficulty decoding can turn on the syllabication option and just read syllable-by-syllable.  Most of all – and I exclaim this with joyous fervor in my PD sessions – this is not something that a teacher has to “push out” to students or that draws any attention to that student!  The students who need it can just “turn it on” themselves – determining for themselves when they need those accommodations – and they don’t look any different than anyone else in the class!  Students can go to the same OneNote page as everyone else, and then discreetly slip in a pair of earbuds, click on the Learning Tools tab, and make the learning accessible without ever leaving the page (or the group, or the classroom!)

I also showed our teachers that their students will also soon have the Dictation feature available (speech to text) as soon as our district upgrades us to Windows 10.  I think a few of the teachers may or may not have fallen out of their chairs.  I know that I heard audible gasps.  One teacher threw her hand over her mouth and mumbled, “Oh, all those years we wasted money and time on that OTHER speech to text program, and now all of our kids will have it RIGHT HERE, RIGHT in their own OneNote notebooks and not having to go out to another program.”  Another teacher exclaimed, “This is like a miracle!”  I LOVE that these teachers get as emotional about this as I do.  That’s exactly how I feel!

Speaking of miracle, this is where something pretty magical began to happen!  Special Ed teachers – and some other speciality teachers, and Child Study Team members – started asking for more sessions just for them that dealt specifically with Adaptive Technology!   They wanted more time with the Learning Tools and to explore samples and brainstorm ways that these could be used.  Nothing – NOTHING – warms the cockles of my heart like teachers who are craving personalized PD that will help them help their students…so I created this to start:

nnnnnThese teachers are especially fascinated with Microsoft’s Audio Recorder, which is a standard part of ALL OneNote notebooks and Class Notebooks…sitting right there in the middle of the Insert Ribbon!  I showed them about 10 ways just that one little microphone tool could be used by both teachers AND students to make learning accessible, productive, and fun!  They played and came up with much better ideas than I had.  We researched and Googled and Pinterest-ed even more practical ideas…and the time flew!

We started with 1/2 day PD, and I’m thrilled to say that it wasn’t enough.  I never even got to demo all the the items on my very short list above – and I had about a dozen others on backup reserve in case we had more time!  As the teachers learned and shared and brainstormed, it gave ME even more ideas about things I want to show them…to teach them…to learn with them!   Going forward, those teachers have inspired a much longer list – I’ve begun compiling a list of apps, websites (like Buncee…see photo caption above), and simple general computer user features that I’ll be offering and sharing at all my schools…and beyond.  I have a bunch of creative “PD Delivery Options” – newsletters, online resources, screencasts, virtual meetings with screensharing, Tech Playdates, Morning Munchies & Lunch Bunch mini-sessions, etc. – so that all of my in-district teachers have diverse options for accessibility, too!

We are all SO very lucky to be at such a great and powerful time in regard to educational technology.  Technology isn’t an answer or a cure-all, and it needs to be planned well and done right, but OH, the possibilities!  Our teachers are lucky – there is so much that is FREE to us these days, and there are so many helpful tools embedded right in the sites and apps we use every day.  Our students are lucky – to be learning how to learn with technology that assists them when they need it.  As for me, I’m quite sure that I am the luckiest of all – to have Special Education teachers with real heart and sincere ambition, who crave and ask for professional development for adaptive technologies to make life the best it can be for their exceptional learners!


As always, I really love to hear your thoughts.  I need YOUR help to grow my list with great ideas to share with teachers!  What simple adaptive technology tools to you use and love?  What are some of your favorite general computer use tricks (my teachers even loved just learning to zoom in on the screen and how to increase/decrease brightness…those little things matter)?  What do you wish you knew about Adaptive Technology?  How do you get/find PD that works for you?  And my favorite question of all is…what’s your coolest AT tip or trick?

Reach out to me at @kerszi on Twitter, drop a note right here in my blog comments, or follow my Facebook page “Integration Innovation” and share your thoughts & ideas there!  I’m also kerszi on Voxer if you’d rather strike up a more private or conversational chat.  Thanks so much!