Both students and educators at Medina Yoro Foulah face a unique set of challenges. The school was housed in a temporary shelter when I joined the faculty. The permanent structure was finally finished in October of 2017, but despite that improvement, we still face a critical lack of resources. We have a library, a computer room and science labs, but we lack proper books (including a basic dictionary), computers, lab equipment and consistent internet access.
Complicating things further, my students come from an agrarian community. Most have never used a computer before, and many have daily responsibilities working on their family farms once school is over. It’s not uncommon for parents to interrupt my lesson because they need their child to help with the day’s tasks. As a result of this double-duty, my students understandably aren’t able to prioritize homework.
There is hope, though! By creating a custom reading-comprehension lesson plan, Microsoft’s OneNote, and its Immersive Reader feature, have brought new possibilities within reach for myself and my students.
What Worked in My Classroom
There are two parts to the reading-comprehension process I’ve implemented: vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension. To understand text, the reader must first understand the vocabulary used in the text. If the words don’t make sense, neither will the story. Children can draw on their prior vocabulary knowledge, but they’ll improve only if they’re continually taught new words.
To learn new words in any language, there’s no simpler, better tool than Immersive Reader. Here are few ways that Immersive Reader made a difference in my classroom.
Reading the text
OneNote’s Immersive Reader reads texts aloud to familiarize students with the pronunciation of a native speaker. This is crucial in our classroom, where there aren’t many opportunities to otherwise hear a native speaker. The students were quickly captivated, and at the end of the lesson, I heard them repeating some English words that’d stuck with them.
Vocabulary in context
We are advised to teach vocabulary within context. It’s never as simple as just translating the words from one language to another. The teacher should be able to explain his or her meaning by making gestures that will help students bring to mind the definition in French. Immersive Reader’s easy-to-use Picture Dictionary includes gestures designed to guide students to the right word, saving me the wild gesticulating!
In this step, we transfer sentences from the text to a table in OneNote. Sometimes, we’ll use a French sentence, and the students will have to find the English equivalent in the text. Students can use the translation option to preview what the sentence looks like in English. Immersive Reader won’t give them a direct translation of the text, pushing the students to recall their vocab knowledge to fully comprehend the original text.
These seemingly simple tools and techniques have helped inspire my students and enliven my classroom. The results are beginning to positively change the community, too. The first generation of students who left for university are returning and, thanks to their advanced education, are able to support their parents financially. Consequently, I’m receiving fewer visits from parents who want to pull their children from class.
There is still a ways to go, and educators will always face unique challenges related to educational resources, but expanding the opportunities for our students depends on our ability to “hack the classroom” and apply new tools in fresh ways.
I hope you find my learnings around OneNote’s Immersive Reader useful in your own classroom.