New Learning Tools Help Educators Create More Inclusive Classrooms

A one-size-fits-all approach to education can be especially stifling for students with unique learning needs. To put it into perspective, Dyslexia is estimated to impact 1 in 5 people, 72 percent of classrooms have special education students, and 73 percent of classrooms have readers that span 4 or more grade levels.* Understanding this classroom reality is what led our teams at Microsoft to design Office 365, and its inclusive classroom technology like Learning Tools for OneNote, with accessible learning experiences in mind.

With accessibility in mind, and based on direct feedback from educators and students, the team continues to expand the capabilities and availability of the tools that help students of all abilities be successful. Many features previously exclusive to OneNote desktop are now coming to OneNote Online, Word desktop and Online, Office Lens, and beyond, to make sure more students have access to these tools.

The accessibility features in many of the tools in Office 365 – free for teachers and students – that educators use regularly with their students create even more inclusive experiences, enabling all learners to have that “aha” moment that motivates their ongoing success.

For special education teachers like Taylor Tefft, accessibility by design is truly game-changing. Tefft and her colleagues at IS77, a public school in New York City, have been using several Office 365 applications to help level the academic playing field for all students, and helping them get promoted to the next grade. As IS77 Assistant Principal Marilyn Barrios shares, “I believe all children want to learn, it’s just a matter of the adults finding an avenue or a vehicle to get them to that place.” 

An Easier Way to Read

Students often have more success when they can de-clutter screen views, animations and background images. It helps promote concentration and aids in comprehension. New features in Learning Tools, currently available in OneNote and coming soon to OneNote Online along with Microsoft Word desktop and Online, modify views and include techniques that help students read more effectively, such as:

  • A Read Aloud feature reads text out loud with simultaneous highlighting improves decoding, fluency, and comprehension while sustaining focus and attention.
  • A Text Spacing feature optimizes font spacing in a narrow column view to improve reading fluency for users who suffer from “visual crowding” issues.
  • A Syllabification feature shows the breaks between syllables to improve word recognition and decoding.
  • A Parts of Speech feature supports instruction and improves writing quality by identifying verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Available for OneNote desktop, Word Online and OneNote Online only at first availability.

In this gif, highlights of the Learning Tools capabilities coming soon to the Read Mode of Word desktop are shown. They will be discoverable in the View tab from Read Mode. Options are shown that let you adjust text spacing, column width, page color and more.

Learning Tools in Word desktop



In this gif, highlights of the Learning Tools capabilities coming soon as an Immersive Reader in Word Online are shown. They will be discoverable in the View. Options are shown that let you adjust text spacing, page color, syllables, parts of speech, and read aloud.

Learning Tools in Word Online


Students with dyslexia are often able to better recognize, comprehend and articulate on-screen language. Many of the capabilities in Learning Tools for OneNote directly support these needs, and in 2016 it was named a top app for Dyslexia.


In this image, a student’s reading fluency growth is shown both before and after Learning Tools was introduced to them. This student’s IEP yearly goal was to increase fluency from 15 words per minute to 25 words. 62 words per minute was achieved, surpassing goal by 37 words per minute, well before the end of the school year.

Tools for writing that can help everyone

Learning Tools was built to help students read effectively, but there are also tools available today to help them write more effectively. The new
Editor feature in Word and Outlook for PCs is particularly helpful for students who may be frustrated when traditional spell-checkers deliver a “no suggestions” response. With the refined spell-checker in Editor, the likelihood of identifying the right spelling correction is increased, even when the typed word is dramatically different from the intended word. Editor also provides synonyms for a misspelling to help identify the right word, and enables read-aloud suggestions to clarify the suggestions.

In this gif, highlights of the spelling checker enhancements inspired by the needs of people with dyslexia are shown while composing an email in Outlook for PCs: · Office shows you synonyms along-side suggestions to correct a misspelling to help choose the right suggestion (“erea”) · Office lets you read-aloud suggestions for a misspelling to disambiguate the suggestions (“contigenous”) Office gives you suggestions to correct a misspelling that is very different from the intended word (“entrepernourse”)

Editor in Outlook (also available in Word)


Jump starting new papers and projects

Another tool that is just beginning to enter the hands of students is Write Ideas. Write Ideas, a Microsoft Garage project, was developed by Microsoft Vancouver interns and attempts to solve the infamous “blank page problem,” by offering students a pre-writing tool to give them a jump-start on their writing assignments. Write Ideas eases students through their writing assignments using structured prompts and questions. Using Write Ideas, students are able to express their creativity in a variety of ways such as voice, doodles and text. Teachers can also create templates on the companion website.
Sign up to preview this brand new iOS mobile app here.

Just as students may struggle with starting the writing process, many students find beginning a new project a bit daunting. With QuickStarter in Sway and PowerPoint, students get a head start on the creation process. Powered by the Bing Knowledge Graph, QuickStarter helps students by providing carefully curated outlines for any topic, including recommendations on information to include, categories to consider and associated images tagged with Creative Commons licenses. This provides a strong foundation for students, like those from New York City mentioned above, to continue building the rest of their projects and demonstrate their comprehension of a subject.

In this gif, highlights of the QuickStarter capabilities in Sway are shown. · Sways asks you to suggest a topic to create a lesson, report, or presentation about · Sway creates an outline of a report for you, including titles and images · Sway also includes hints in the storyline (“You might consider writing about”) Sway has a preview of the creation for you to fill in with your research and writing that its automatically professionally designed and instantly shareable.

QuickStarter in Sway


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