Microsoft Teams offers a wide range of tools for educators and students already, and Microsoft today announced another major new feature specifically aimed at younger children, called Reading Progress. As you can probably infer from the name, the purpose of the feature is to help children with their learning process when it comes to reading and pronunciation, a skill that's been harder to train over the past year due to remote learning becoming much more prevalent. In fact, Microsoft points to a recent study from Stanford University showing that oral fluency among second- and third-graders was roughly 30% behind expectations during COVID-19 times.
Reading Progress in Teams will make it possible for educators to create reading assignments, which students can then practice and record in video and audio format so that teachers can review their progress on their own time. Teachers can point out different types of errors in the pronunciation and grade the overall recording, helping children focus on the areas where they may struggle the most.
The feature is now in private preview, and as of right now, teachers can create assignments by uploading a Word document to serve as a reading passage. Support for PDFs is coming in the summer, and Microsoft will also be introducing a partnership with ReadWorks to make curated reading assignments available in Teams. Educators can set attributes like the reading level, the genre of the text, and whether a video recording is required (or just audio). Then, students get the assignment with the ability to record audio or video, depending on the teacher's set permissions, and Microsoft has even brought some of the benefits of Immersive Reader into the experience, so students can more easily follow along with the text.
Once the recording is submitted by the student, Teams can preemptively grade the reading progress of the student, highlighting potentially misspelled or mispronounced words, phrases where the student corrected themselves, and so on, giving teachers an idea of what to look out for the most. This data is then all pulled into Insights, which helps teachers visualize a student's progress, such as their accuracy and words-per-minute rate over time. This data can also be shared with others, such as literacy coaches, to further help students achieve fluency.
As mentioned above, Reading Progress is in private testing with select educators, and it's already supported on pretty much every platform where Teams is, including the web. However, video recordings aren't yet available on Android and iOS, but that's planned for this summer. Microsoft hopes to have Reading Progress ready for general availability in late August, in time for the next school year.
Microsoft also announced other improvements for Teams, including support for group assignments, assignments from third-party apps, more calendar integrations, and better integration with learning management systems (LMS).