Making change in the learning commons

Traditionally, support teachers may work in a small office in a school or in a small classroom to support struggling students. In many schools, there are more students who need support than a single teacher can get to in a day or even a week cycle. The difficulty of finding an ideal space and a sufficient amount of time to assist students can be overwhelming. This is the story of how my involvement in the Microsoft Educator Community shifted my pedagogical thinking to conquer these challenges.

As I began to collect badges and points through the Microsoft Educator Community, my pedagogical thinking began to shift to a more Universal Design approach. I recognized that all students could use the tools that were being taught through the Microsoft Educator Community and that Office 365 had everything to offer to students. There was no longer a need to download multiple programs or go to many different websites. O365 is truly a one-stop shop for all students’ educational and assistive technology needs. I also came to the conclusion that the Microsoft Educator Community was offering a solution to one of my struggles as a support teacher, getting around to all classrooms to support students.

The number of students who were struggling in areas of written communication and reading was greater than the time or physical space I had to support them. Students also often didn’t enjoy being pulled out of their regular programming one at a time to learn a new skill or tool. I found myself teaching the same mini lessons over and over again to small groups. Something had to change to help address the needs of the students in a more inclusive learning environment.

With the support of my administrator, this year we moved my desk from a small private office to the open concept Library Learning Commons. While in the Learning Commons I have worked with teachers to identify areas where technology may help support learning. We’ve taken these needs and taught entire class lessons on how to use assistive tools in Excel, Word, and OneNote to support student learning. I find that all students come to me to ask questions—not just those brave enough to travel to my office. Students know where to find me and there is no stigma around coming to the Library Learning Commons, since they’re just coming to the Resource Support Room.

I began teaching a ‘tech class’ of 20 students, 80 minutes (two classes) per cycle, using OneNote Class Notebook, Learning Tools and a variety of other assistive features in O365 apps. Each of the students received double the shared support time that they would normally receive. As well, they were able to make positive peer connections to students in grades 4 through 8 around the topic of using technology. This class also participated in the Skype-A-Thon, connecting with the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, furthering their understanding of different ways of communicating.

The Learning Commons is the technology hub of our school and it is now the Learning Resource support area. I use the tech class as a way of infusing intensive technology supports for multiple students who struggle. I use the ‘21st Century Competencies’ document  (Ministry of Education, Ontario, 2016) as a curriculum guide to help support learning. Students are engaged in the tech class and look forward to it every week.

Just recently I partnered with a grade three class to introduce them to the use of SWAY. We used this lesson to host a Demonstration Classroom in our board and invite educators and administrators from other schools to see SWAY in action in our Learning Commons. This Demonstration day seemed to serve as the celebration of all the changes that have taken place and the positive impacts on student learning.


Cynthia Gozzard is a Learning Resource Teacher and Teacher Librarian at Delhi Public School in Grand Erie District School Board. Cynthia is passionate about using a Universal Design approach to teaching assistive technology tools to support Special Needs students in the Library Learning Commons.
For more resources and guidance on how to use Microsoft tools to support the learning of all students, visit