OneNote Class Notebook add-in and Learning Tools have truly changed my life

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Today’s post was written by Rachel Montisano, first grade teacher at the Ashton Elementary School.

Click, connect, discover. With every click my students make in OneNote, they connect with me, with each other and with the world around them. They connect to tools and learning that is unique and, in some cases, that would be otherwise unavailable. OneNote and the digital inking abilities of the Microsoft Surface 3 have led me to discover new ways to teach and bring learning to my students. My vision was to affect a shift from whole group instruction and passive learning to project-based, collaborative learning using OneNote. I knew that first grade students were capable of using these tools, but I was venturing into unknown territory. I had never used OneNote or digital ink, and I was up against a world of critics. Many teachers questioned the use of technology in a first grade classroom and doubted that these little incoming six-year-olds could be successful in this endeavor. Others were skeptical about this being appropriate for developing fine motor skills.

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I wanted to increase overall student achievement through heightened student engagement, active learning and student accountability. I needed to tackle the challenge of shifting learning from passively engaged to actively engaged with the technology potentials of the Surface 3 and OneNote. I created a OneNote Class Notebook and sent it to the students. I explained how we were going to use the Surface and OneNote for our reading responses and literacy centers. They had their crayons, paper, highlighters, scissors, magnifying glasses, dictionaries and more, everything they needed digitally, and in one spot—in ONENOTE! The name said it all! Then they learned how to access their textbooks and split their screens using OneNote, so that they could see and hear the online text at the same time as their comprehension sheet stored in OneNote.

The process of teaching six-year-olds who struggle through text to go back and reread text to find text evidence used to be exhausting. It was hard work and required some serious convincing on my part and usually involved many sighs from these little students. Now with OneNote, they actually want to go back and find the answers in the story. Now they are begging to highlight text to prove their answers.

They are searching for different pieces of text that support answers to come up with something unique so that the teacher will choose them to “share their screen.” One of the biggest struggles in first grade is now one of the students’ favorite activities. OneNote has motivated these first graders to become very proficient text detectives! In fact, they come in each day and ask if we will be finding text evidence today. They cannot wait to highlight, underline and screen clip exactly the text needed. The fact that they can split their screens to access research and follow website links to discover additional information for their OneNote assignments and discussions has changed their worlds and mine! We are now essentially paperless for our everyday work. We use paper only for special projects, displays and taking assessments. Everything else is all in one spot—OneNote.

With everything in OneNote, I realized we had extra time and everyone was always prepared—even for projects or papers that we were working on for extended periods of time. I never have to spend time passing out papers or collecting papers. I don’t have to help search for missing papers or keep a store of extras for those who lost theirs, messed up, threw it out, ripped it, ate it or whatever else among the multitude of reasons that a first grader needs a new paper.

OneNote with digital ink was amazing. It was like a giant piece of paper. When teaching writing skills, the proper positions are identical to those using paper. Unlike paper, however, OneNote is able to meet the differentiated needs of all students’ motor capabilities. Students can screen pinch to make the papers or lines bigger or smaller in OneNote. My students, whose fine motor skills are not developed, can make the lines larger, allowing them more space to write and then pinch the screen to a smaller size to share or add other details. Unlike other programs, the text moved with the paper in OneNote, making this very successful for my students!

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Looking back, I realized that I had invested about a week of time in which explicit instruction was specifically provided in teaching the students how to use OneNote and the technology components that go along with the Surface 3, digital ink, Office 365 and OneNote. It was not, however, much more instruction than I would have typically provided without the use of these technology tools. As the year progressed, this tool was opening more doors than I had initially imagined. Students were motivated to read complex texts, to search for text evidence, to write and edit—all because of the capabilities of OneNote. We were gaining instructional time by always having everything organized in one spot. Papers were never lost, and they were always ready. My students were getting more time to complete tasks and more one-on-one instruction from me to meet their varying needs. It was amazing!

As the year progressed, students were learning at increasing speeds, and their gains were becoming more and more apparent. They took their mid-year iReady diagnostic assessment, and at the halfway point, 67 percent of my students had already made gains equivalent to one year of  growth! The remaining 33 percent had started the year struggling. Of this remaining group, however, 89 percent of them were within 3–7 points of making a year’s worth of growth. Some who were far below grade level now had the chance, quite possibly, to be proficient by the end of the year, given their rates of growth. An astonishing feat! In math, students are also using the Surface. It seems there are limitless ways in which a student can make learning even more powerful through the use of OneNote.

The first graders were slow when it came to retrieving information put in the content library. So even though this was a tedious process for me, one by one I copied each page and tab the students would need for the day into each of their notebooks. Having their materials already prepared in their notebooks was time well invested because it gave me extra time in the classroom. But for any time gained in the classroom, I lost that at home.

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Then the Class Notebook add-in was released. This changed my world both in the classroom and at home by giving me time back in my day. It was the amazing feature that I had been hoping for! Now, with two clicks, I can send out all the tabs/pages  that I had created or wanted to share with the students. Truly remarkable! Microsoft had just given me a tool that made me an even more effective teacher and gave me time back! Now I had more time at home to spend with my husband and kids without having to stay up till 2 a.m. every night! It even saved me a trip to school to change sub plans. My plans were there, but every teacher knows that sometimes we do not want a substitute to do what we had planned to do ourselves. I created and uploaded the work and activities that I wanted the students to complete that day with the sub, and with two clicks, the OneNote Class Notebook add-in tool allowed me to send out to the students a whole new tab filled with reading and math activities and directions for the day. No running to work to adjust sub plans and make extra copies for me—all thanks to this new Class Notebook add-in.

Not only did this impact my planning time behind the scenes, but it also impacted the students during class time. Now, when a student finds an article or a picture or a resource page that we all could use, I can send it out from their notebook in seconds. We can also quickly share multiple pages, giving the students access to more information quickly. For example, during a graphing lesson, the students used OneNote to survey classmates and collect different sets of data. Then they worked with a partner to create a bar graph. A collaborative project then became another piece of real information that gave additional practice to the class. Even though each student collected only one set of data, each completed partner graph could be sent directly to every student’s math OneNote Notebook. The students now had nine sets of practice data to analyze following their data collection experience—all right at their fingertips within seconds—allowing everyone to stay actively engaged in learning. No need to copy or project onto a screen—it is hands-on for them in about five seconds thanks to the Class Notebook add-in.

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The newest addition to OneNote, Learning Tools, has helped some of my lowest students increase their recognition of high frequency words. This has helped level the playing field when it comes to reading pages and information put into their OneNote Notebooks. Before this tool, the students would come up to me and say, “but I can’t read.” Now, with the click of a button, the students are able to listen to all the information that is on a particular page. When dealing with informational content, students who are still emergent readers can receive help with any text in OneNote. They are more confident and able to participate and collaborate with peers because of this tool. They don’t have to wait for me to read with them or to them before being able to participate in a discussion, because they have already heard the information. And, in addition to hearing, when the immersive reader reads the text to them, it highlights each word, allowing them to continually hear spoken words matched to text.

After this year, I know that my students are not only strong first graders academically, I also know that they are ready to embark on a path to developing necessary skills in today’s age of technology. I know that both as a teacher and as the mother of three little kids that Microsoft OneNote with the Class Notebook add-in and Learning Tools have truly changed my life. It has significantly impacted my teaching and has given me back the one thing I never have enough of…TIME!

—Rachel Montisano