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Learning Tools are a game changer for my special education students

Today’s post was written by Lauren Pittman, special education teacher at Holly Springs Elementary School in Georgia.

As an educator, you see a lot of technology floating around and you wonder to yourself which ones are useful, or worth the money. Well, look no further, my friends. Microsoft has invested not only money but a great deal of time to make our job as educators easier. They have given us a one-stop shop in Office 365 and a range of lesson tools such as PowerPoint and Sway. However, one of the most incredible tools they have designed is OneNote. OneNote is a digital binder that can house your entire classroom. It gives you real-time access to student work, the ability to send an assignment to an entire class at one time and a way to organize student work without using paper. OneNote has the ability to transform your classroom from paper-dependent to paper-free.

This year, I decided that I wanted to make that same journey and make my classroom paperless. I went to my technology project specialist, Sandi Adams, and my principal, Dr. Dianne Steinbeck, and told them about what I wanted to do. Sandi sprinkled her magic and we were off and running. My students were awarded Surface tablets to use this year and this helped us take another step forward on our journey. I worked all summer to get our OneNote Notebook ready and when the day came that we got our Surface tablets, we were more than just off and running—we were sprinting.

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When I started this journey, I never could have imagined how impactful this would be for my students. I am resource special education (SPED) teacher, which means that I work with students who are two-plus years behind in their reading, writing and math skills. These students present such a challenge because they have such large hurdles to overcome just to find “average.” They are completely dependent upon you to access their education and many times this makes reaching them in the classroom feel impossible. In order to bridge this gap—the reality of where they are to the possibility of where they could be—you need to have tools that allow you as the teacher to make their independence possible.

OneNote for SPED is a game changer. This tool that can literally transform your classroom, and I am living proof of that. My students this year encompass a range of challenges. I have exceptionalities ranging from ADHD to dyslexia and everything in between. The biggest challenge this year was the baseline of where my students started. I had one student who could only read six words per minute, and that was on a good day. He was in such an “educational black hole” that I wasn’t sure how I would help him. One of my students is also MID (mildly intellectually disabled), so doing things like copying from the board or writing an extended response seemed like an insurmountable task. Students who deal with print disabilities need a tool in the classroom that allows them to access print in a positive way.

In order to help my students find their educational success, I decided that OneNote was going to be the base tool for our room. I took everything that I normally would do on paper and transformed it into a digital working binder. When my students first started working with the OneNote Notebook, they were blown away. One of my students said, “I will never have to worry about finding my work again,” and he was right. To this day, he has never lost any of his work, and for anyone with an ADHD student, you know how mind-blowing that seems. I have watched my students take this idea of a “digital classroom” and completely change it from an idea to a reality. Watching them interact with OneNote and seeing how they have transformed has been one of my life’s greatest joys. Knowing that this is a tool they can access from their elementary school days through college gives me hope that most of them will go to college. It gives me hope that they will overcome their circumstances outside of the classroom knowing that they have support in the classroom.

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Regarding the hopes for their education, I firmly believe this would not be possible without Learning Tools for OneNote. The market is so inundated with products targeted for SPED students that it makes it very hard to decide what is worth it and what isn’t. The Learning Tools give students “tools at their fingertips” in a program that they already use every day. They are not having to go and turn on a separate program and then hope that it will play nice with other programs. The Learning Tools are a game changer for SPED students, and my students are living proof of that. The first time they ever turned on the Immersive Reader, you would have thought that Christmas had come early. The look in their eyes when they realized they would be able to have something read for them and not have me stand over them to do so was instantaneously impactful. I watched as my students transformed from “learning dependent” to “learning independent,” and it made my heart soar.

I have two students in particular who were most impacted by these tools. My dyslexic student really struggled with his print disability. He could only read six words per minute and even when he did make a fluency gain, he couldn’t sustain it. When he started using the Learning Tools, I could see an immediate change in him. He was more willing to attempt assignments and his reading fluency skyrocketed. He went from reading only six words per minute to 27 words per minute in a matter of weeks. The combination of the Immersive Reader and the Contrast Tool helped him find a way to overcome his hurdles. It allowed him to see that words could be more than mountains to climb, they could become hills to travel instead. He has made such progress, and I stand firm in knowing the Learning Tools helped him to find success.

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I have one sweet girl in my room who was struggling just to find a small amount of balance in the classroom. She not only has a print disability but also lives daily with a seizure disorder. Learning in the classroom really looked like an impossible task for her, but that all changed with Learning Tools. The Immersive Reader allowed her to be able to interact with text on her own and the Dictation tool allowed her to record her thoughts without the “impossible” task of writing. She is now able to complete assignments on her own without me hovering over her to help with every little thing.

OneNote and Learning Tools are the perfect combination that I had been looking for. If you teach SPED or have these students in your classroom, you now have an easy-to-access and easy-to-use tool at your fingertips to help transform their education. You can watch these students go from “educational black hole” to “sky’s the limit.”

—Lauren Pittman

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