I have been supporting teachers and students across Brisbane Catholic Schools to strategically transition to Microsoft’s O365 suite of apps. I was lucky enough to work closely with a Brisbane Catholic Primary school in a coaching/modelling role for the course of a whole semester this year.
The school has a very diverse mix of students with a high percentage of ESL students, in particular, Arabic speaking students. So I was excited to work with these students and teachers to introduce them to some of Microsoft’s accessibility tools such as immersive reader.
Over the course of the semester, I was able to work with teachers individually, as a whole staff and also with the students in whole class contexts. I was able to visit every class from year 2 to 6 and was able to work with the students to compose text in Word documents created in OneDrive. Through Word, even reluctant writers were able to begin composing texts through using the dictate function in Word, and they were then able to use immersive reader to make comparisons to Arabic, to translate individual Words to Arabic and to hear the text back in their preferred language.
As a last engagement at the school, I was able to work with an ESL teacher, who I had not spent a lot of time with, and roughly 20 ESL student most of who spoke Arabic as a first language. The 45 minutes I spent with these students ended up, rather serendipitously, as a clear validation of the work we had done with the teachers and students throughout the semester. The students came from many different classes from across the school, and brought a variety of devices. However when I asked them to show the ESL teacher how they could login to O365, create a word online doc through OneDrive and begin composing text, they could all perform this task without any impediments. They could demonstrate to the ESL teacher the power of immersive reader and dictate tools. Here is a link all about about immersive reader and where users can find it across the suite of O365 products.
The fact that they were all able to easily access these features shows the value of strategically implementing a consistent platform across the school and identifying the immersive reader as the accessibility tool of choice. It’s free, secure, device agnostic – and it works. Now these students have access, regardless of the context, activity or student grouping at the school.
Contrast this with other school contexts where individual classes might be sourcing their own solutions and/or are paying for potentially less secure third party solutions. In these contexts it would have been impossible to so quickly and safely engage in digital composition of text with such a wide cross section of students.
As a as part of this lesson, almost as an afterthought, I demoed the new PowerPoint feature that does real time captioning and translation. I merely pulled up a generic PowerPoint online slide, began speaking and asked the students who could read Arabic to follow on along and to give me feedback about the translation. The students were thrilled to see their language and culture embedded in the lesson, and for students who are often struggling in class to decode English, it placed them as the experts who have this profound knowledge and positioned me as the novice. Even when translation wasn’t accurate, it provided an opportunity to have a great conversation about language. At one point a student pointed out it had translated the word ‘holiday’ as ‘Christmas’. This led to a great discussion around the connection between these words, so even a mistranslation can lead to deep learning.
The uptake of accessibility tools such as Immersive Reader has increased across the schools I have worked with and supporting this is the research that highlights the benefits to students who use its features.