As an English teacher, reading as always been a love of mine personally, as well as a focus of mine professionally. As a high school teacher, though, I have not been taught HOW to teach the reading skills. My expertise is in the analysis and comprehension of texts, so when the district begins to talk about having the English teachers facilitate reading intervention, I throw up my hand to point out that I have no literacy training. I’m probably not the only teacher this has happened to, and if we’re being honest, it is up to everyone in a district to ensure all students can read and have the tools necessary to help them be successful readers. I can’t just say “I have no training” and wash my hands of it. So, let’s get our hands dirty in the work of promoting literacy in our schools. Here are a few Microsoft tools, a bonus new online tool that I am piloting, and texts recommended by my fabulous Professional Learning Network (PLN), who always come to my rescue. I’ve compiled a tasting of what is out there to aid us in this endeavor, but it is by no means an in depth look or exhaustive deep dive into these products, platforms, and books. Get brave and dip your toes in the literacy water with me!
I can’t say enough about Microsoft’s Immersive Reader! What’s the big deal? So glad you asked! Immersive Reader is a wonderful free accessibility tool that all students can use. Wether they need help reading as the learn reading skills, struggle with Dyslexia, or speak a different language, Immersive Reader let’s your students:
- Hear the text read out loud at a speed they choose
- Choose the language of the text
- Change screen colors and line spacing to make things easier to read
- Read just a few lines at a time
- Break sentences into syllables (great for reading poetry too!)
- Elect a word to hear it read and see a picture
- Adjust the font
- Highlight different parts of speech
Nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up
For a complete overview and tutorial of this amazing tool and others offered in Microsoft platforms, explore this overview or go to the Microsoft Education Center and take a free course. I recommend starting with Accessibility, special education, and online learning: Supporting equity in a remote learning environment. Microsoft Education Center offers several courses on supporting literacy and tools that aid in that process.
You may now be wondering where to find Immersive Reader. You may also be thinking that you are a Google School, so this doesn’t help you anyway. Not true. I am currently teaching in a Google School too where my students use Chromebooks. How can I access the amazing features of Immersive Reader? Easy. Office 365 online is available to educators and students for free even if your district doesn’t have a Microsoft subscription. All you need is to use your valid school email address to get started today at Office.com/Student or Office.com/Teachers.
Now that we know how to access Microsoft tools, let’s look at which Microsoft platforms and Microsoft Partners have Immersive Reader:
- Discovery Education
- Pear Deck
- Whiteboard Chat
I encourage you to try Immersive Reader this year and let students explore ways that it can help them access the text and improve their reading skills. As you do, check out the rest Microsoft Learning Tools and how they can make the learning more accessible for all learners.
All the way up
A PLN member, Jamie Ellman reached out recently to introduce me to a new tool online that holds a lot of promise. In fact, you might say I was “juiced” to try it with students this fall. (Sorry-English teacher occupational hazard.) The Juice is a website learning platform to help students develop critical thinking skills while reading current news articles on the reading level they need. This helps students improve their reading and vocabulary in the process. The articles are curated daily from the headlines, leveled into four categories: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12. You set your class up by the level you teach (sorry-this platform doesn’t include grades lower than 5 at this time) and add students. They get a Daily Juice email notification when the Juice is ready. That’s when the fun begins.
Students have a choice each day of 6-7 articles and an ACT word of the day. My plan is to require that they do one article and the Word of the Day each class period. The articles include a quiz when finished, and these are not the type of quiz that students can answer by skimming the articles. They need to understand what they are reading and do a bit of analysis too. There may be just one question per article, or a few questions, but nothing that overwhelms the students.
By providing a choice among the various articles, students can own part of the reading and feel empowered to choose what most interests them. The Juice also provides data that can be used to help students in areas that need additional support. I will incorporate goal setting with the Juice data so that my students can track, own, and be proud of their progress.
I’m all the way up
As I dive deeper into literacy for students, I asked my fabulous professional learning network (PLN) to suggest books that will help us non-literacy teachers help students develop literacy skills and improve their reading comprehension and analysis. After all, I feel that reading is a gateway to an “anything is possible” future, where doors will open for students because of their skills. I don’t want any student to miss out on opportunities because of their lack of reading skills. There were several responses to my query on Twitter for literacy resources, and here are the results:
I’m all the way up
These are in no particular order on the graphic and below:
- Understanding Texts & Readers
- Deeper Reading
- Teaching Reading in Middle School
- Reading Strategies Book
- Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain
- Shifting the Balance
- Game Changer
- 180 Days
- Notice & Note: Reading Nonfiction
- Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading
- The Book Whisperer
- Reading in the Wild
- Disrupting Thinking
- Hacking Literacy
- Passionate Readers
- Know Better, Do Better
So as we explore tools, programs, and read up on different strategies and theories, let’s keep in mind that we are here to serve our students. Let them provide input when you try new educational technology. Let them have choice in what works best for them as you offer a choice of tools to use. And because we live in strange pandemic times currently, it’s also best to bring in social emotional learning (SEL) while you work toward student mastery of your standards. Using tools, like The Juice, for goal setting can be huge and ties in with John Hattie‘s 256 influences on learning and their effect sizes. If you have students set a goal prior to beginning a lesson, unit, or area of study, then chart their formative results and summative, all while you, the teacher, are encouraging them to beat that goal, that is self reported grades and ranks second in the top influencers on student learning. Goal setting is also a huge SEL component, so find ways like the one I just described to work that into your courses/classrooms.
Nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up
However you choose to do it, let’s work together to improve the literacy of students all over the world. We have the technology. We have the power. Let’s do it. Nothing should stop us from helping students gain and strengthen reading skills. Let’s go all the way up.