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Microsoft Trial Helps Dyslexic Kids With OneNote App

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Feel good Friday. Trial conducted in a UK school by Dyslexia charity reveals benefits from using Microsoft’s OneNote

Microsoft’s OneNote app has been helping British children with learning difficulties improve their reading and spelling.

The 11 week trial took place at Knowl Hill School in Surrey, and involved twenty children aged between four and nine years old, who have a range of learning difficulties to do with reading, spelling and writing.

These difficulties stem from the fact that all the children suffered from dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder, specific language impairment or an autistic spectrum disorder.

SurfacePro3 headUK Trial

The trial was conducted by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), and it found that Microsoft’s OneNote digital notebook helped dyslexic children improve both their reading and spelling skills.

The 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.

Consequently, the BDA is encouraging the education profession to look at the potential for using the technology in the classroom. Indeed, teachers involved in the project said they intended to continue using the tools as they have benefited their pupils, especially older students.

And with 10 percent of all UK kids thought to have some degree of dyslexia, the potential of the technology to help them is a promising development.

Microsoft’s contribution to the trial saw it loan Surface laptops to Knowl Hill School, which specialises in teaching children with dyslexia and learning difficulties. The Surface laptops included OneNote, Microsoft’s digital notebook that allows users to write down ideas and keep track of notes as well as draw and sketch.

OneNote automatically underlines incorrectly spelled words in red, while the Immersive Reader feature reads out what children have written.

OneNote Benefits

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 noted.

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”.

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

“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,” the charity added. “Further, extended research would be appropriate, using larger samples and a longer implementation period.”

And Microsoft was keen to point out that although the trial was small in scale, the results were very promising and should warrant a closer look.

“Confidence and emotional resilience are crucial parts of the learning process for all children,” explained Ian Fordham, director of education at Microsoft UK. “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.” 

Education Push

Microsoft, along with other tech firms, has been a vocal backer of improved IT education in the UK and it has previously funded a study to bolster computer science teaching in schools.

Last year Microsoft released Minecraft: Education Edition for teachers around the world, to help students learn a number of skills in the classroom.

Microsoft also offers Office 365 free of charge to students and teachers via their relevant academic institution.

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