How Microsoft’s Literacy Tools Improve Reading Comprehension in Classrooms

The past two years have exacerbated existing literacy challenges and inequities and contributed to a drop in reading fluency for many students, especially English language learners and those with learning differences. To level the playing field for all learners and support educators and students during a challenging time, Microsoft developed its suite of free tools to support literacy, including Reading Progress, Education Insights in Microsoft Teams, and Immersive Reader.

Curious educators can learn how these free tools can help their students by watching the EdWeek webinar. The webinar features educators who have successfully used these tools to give their students confidence in reading out loud and expanding vocabulary. You’ll need to create a free EdWeek account to watch the recording.

Below are a few frequently asked questions to help you get started with Microsoft’s Literacy Tools, including our Quick Start Guide that includes descriptions of each tool, letters to request IT support, and tips from educators that explore time-saving features.   

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why should I use Microsoft’s Literacy Tools in my classroom?

These tools will help educators to:

  • save time on fluency assessments,
  • reduce reading and testing anxiety for students,
  • use data to inform instruction,
  • optimize progress monitoring,
  • promote reading confidence,
  • encourage independent practice,
  • provide accommodations to students with dyslexia and other
  • learning challenges, and
  • make learning more equitable.

If that sounds like the support you need in your classroom, download our Quick Start Guide.

Q: What is the difference among the three free tools?

  1. Reading Progress: a free tool available in Microsoft Teams designed to help students build confidence and reading fluency. Instead of listening to each student read a passage individually to assess their reading fluency, save time by enabling students to independently complete their reading assignments, assigning passages to the class as a whole or selecting specific passages for certain students, using the auto-detect tool with adjustable pronunciation sensitivity, and tracking student and class progress automatically through Education Insights.
  2. Education Insights: available in Microsoft Teams collects real-time analytics from the assignments your students complete using Reading Progress. This easily accessible data provides details about individual progress and classroom learning trends to help you individualize and adapt instruction as needed. Education Insights facilitates literacy instruction by providing average accuracy rates (mispronunciation, omissions, insertions, repetitions, and self-corrections); average words per minute; a challenging word cloud of the top mispronounced words for the class; the ability to view individual students or the class as a whole; and the option to filter for the genre, reading level, and timeframe.
  3. Immersive Reader: is available across many Microsoft applications like Word, OneNote, Edge browser, and more. It’s an especially important tool for students with dys­lexia and other learning differences. With Immersive Reader, students can: customize the text and adjust the font size and spacing to accommodate different learning styles, use a digital ruler to remove distractions and focus on one line at a time, and activate text-to-speech so they can hear the passage read aloud at varying speeds, identify syllables and parts of speech using a grammar tool, refer to a picture dictionary to learn new words, translate a reading passage into more than 100 languages, and have a reading passage read aloud in more than 45 languages.

Q: How do I gain access to Office 365 Education?

You can access Office 365 for free using web applications and/or your school may already have a license which you can confirm with your IT administrator. To help educators get started, we have created two emails to cut and paste for your convenience. You should use the first if your school has a license for Office 365 Education but you need help getting it set up on your computer and your students’ devices.

The second email should be used to request Office 365 Education for yourself and your students when your district does not already have a license.

You can access both of these templates in our Quick Start Guide. Download it for free.

Q: What grade levels can Reading Progress be used for? 

It can be used at all levels, from Pre-K to AP classes, because of the insights that you get with word clouds. The program identifies challenging vocabulary to help students learn new words, regardless of their level. It’s been used in special education, with speech and pathology groups, for students with all types of learning needs.

Q: How can Reading Progress help with comprehension?

Since it’s built right into Microsoft Teams, educators can add in other resources and assignments to help bring in more comprehension work. Educators can use additional Microsoft tools like Flipgrid or OneNote to extend activities or use external tools to further support the entire reading solution and literacy skills.

Q: Are teachers responsible for uploading reading fluency passages or are they pre-loaded?

Yes and yes. There are several hundred pre-loaded passages, but educators can also upload their own. Some districts may have dedicated teams that have previously uploaded reading passages to support the work of educators across the region or teachers can choose to use their own. It’s dependent on the experience the teacher chooses to build.

There are also additional resources in the Quick Start Guide to help you learn how to create your own reading repository.

Q: What about Pre-K learners? How can this tool be helpful for them? 

This tool can be used for pre-k educators, particularly those who upload sight words, lists, or letter names. There have been successful instances of educators using these tools with sight words specifically. Additional tools are launching, like Reading Coach, which will further support literacy goals for students.

Q: What kind of support can this offer English language learners (ELL)?

With the languages that are available in the tools along with being able to upload resources that can then be translated, English language learners are able to practice which is essential when developing the skills.

In terms of intervention, to determine where a child is struggling with comprehension or fluency, this tool allows you to go back to the native language to diagnose a student’s needs. This tool helps you meet a student where they’re at by using the assessment and creating a custom solution.

Q: What products does Microsoft offer for intervention for early literacy skills?

There are lots of Microsoft products that would be helpful, but Reading Progress is the most helpful in terms of progress monitoring. Reading Progress can be used to monitor overall progress goals at a student level and at a district level.

These tools allow students to practice, engage, and record for the purposes of progression. Insights provides the data that you can monitor and adjust instruction as needed as part of the intervention process.

Community Connect Partner: Microsoft

Thank you to Microsoft for partnering with First Book to bring these free tools to educators serving students in low-income communities.

If you are an educator at a Title I or Title I eligible school, health care provider, school support personnel, librarian, early learning professional, community program or afterschool staff, or you serve kids in need in another capacity, join our free Network of educators. Our community receives access to additional benefits like low-cost books, funding opportunities, and free tools like the one provided by Microsoft.

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