Seattle students breaking down reading barriers using Microsoft technology in school

Second-graders at the Amazing Grace campus of Renton Prep are learning to read using new Microsoft Immersive Reader technology.

KIRO 7 saw it Friday as students used the interactive program to learn words and grammar they had otherwise struggled with.

“It actually helped me a lot,” said Karrick, a second-grader who was way behind his classmates two years ago.

Susan Thompson is Karrick’s teacher, who first saw his struggles when he was in kindergarten.

“Did not know hardly any letters of the alphabet or sounds,” she said.  “And through the year, he still did not pick those up.”

Over the past year, Thompson has seen Karrick catching up to his classmates using Immersive Reader.  The computer program lets children click on a word they don’t know.

Then, it displays a picture of what that word is, and the child can click to hear the word pronounced.

Karrick showed KIRO 7 when he came across the word “beehive.” He first clicked the picture and saw a bee on a beehive.

So, he said "bees."

But then he clicked on the pronouncer and heard “beehive.”

The program helps students highlight adjectives, nouns and verbs.

And it helps with writing by reading back aloud what they've written.

“When they put it in the Immersive Reader and listen to it being read back to them, they get this funny look on their face,” Thompson said.  “They say, 'Ooh, I wrote "exit." I meant "excited."  So, it's a great tool for self-correcting.”

Mark Sparvell stopped by the class on Friday.

He’s a former teacher who now works for Microsoft and helps schools integrate the program.

All over the world, more than 9 million people now use Immersive Reader.

“It's where best practice teachers meet the right technology, you get next practice,” Sparvell said.  “And that next practice is where students are able to self-manage, become self-aware of learning and take control of the amount of support they need.”

Karrick is now reading regular books at home.

“Like 'Stick Dog,' it's a chapter book,” Karrick said.  “I used to not be able to read it.”

Anyone can get Immersive Reader and Microsoft Learning Tools.

They are free add-ons for Word, OneNote, Outlook, Edge and Office Lens.  You just need Windows 7 or above.

On a larger scale, the technology is an example of how innovation here in Western Washington is breaking down educational barriers.

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