Innovations in technology

Most people would agree that for children in the education system, the most important and most stressful time at school is exam time. What is key for students with dyslexia (and their teachers) is to remember that nearly all exams are not testing reading ability but knowledge of a subject. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for struggling readers to be given the necessary support to read the questions. If you can’t read the question, how can you possibly answer it!

As a poor reader at school, I was fortunate enough to be assessed for dyslexia. The main outcome of this meant I was allowed an extra twenty minutes per hour of exam. This made a huge difference to me passing my seven GCSE’s and three A-levels and it has meant the subject of dyslexia has always been of interest to me.

Two decades on from leaving school, I now find myself attending major education and dyslexia conferences in the UK and abroad as part of the day to day marketing of the company I co-founded exactly thirteen years ago, Scanning Pens Ltd. Over this time, we have worked with different manufacturers of portable scanners including WizCom Technologies from Israel, Planon from Canada and C-Pen from Sweden. The technology we supply assists people with reading, data capture and translating.

Much of this technology was clever and state of the art thirteen years ago, however since then little development occurred from the manufacturers and so our business Innovations in technology that are enabling struggling readers to be independent. Jack Churchill from Scanning Pens Ltd considers how this new technology benefits those with reading difficulties and provides an allowable resource for access arrangements. However, two key elements have now transformed the business into good shape, so much so that our sales have been more than doubling every year since 2014. The first big development was gaining approval from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) for pen scanners to be used in exams. This was followed by us working with C-Pen to develop new state of the art pens scanners that have built-in cameras rather than scanners and that speak with a really good digital voice.

More than 50,000 children a year in the UK have help with reading the exam questions in their GCSE’s and A-Levels. Typically, these students are put in a separate room to their peers with a human reader. The advent of the C-Pen Exam Reader now means students who struggle with reading can be back in the main exam hall with headphones plugged in hearing any words or lines of text read aloud.

The arrangement is ‘centre delegated’, so a school can allow anyone who struggles with reading to use the pen, as long as it is part of their normal way of working. So as well as helping people who have Access Arrangements, this pen can now be used by people who didn’t qualify for Access Arrangements and for people who have English as an additional language. The device can also be used in Cambridge International Exams such as the iGCSE and in Scottish Qualifications Authority exams and the International Baccalaureate are expected to make an announcement this winter. It was vital when developing the C-Pen Exam Reader to take into account the exam board criteria that there should be no dictionary, no storage function and finally that it must stand out clearly in a busy exam hall as the approved one, hence the bright orange colour! The pen’s modern design means the device is half the size of previous portable pen scanners and at 50g is half the weight.

The pen has a LCD display, speaker and seven control buttons. There are two ports – a headphone port and micro usb for charging. As the pen is rolled across a word or line of text, a white light is emitted from the nose of the pen which works like a yellow highlighter in showing the user where the pen is moving. This means a student keeps their concentration on the page they’re reading and they don’t get distracted. Typically, a person who struggles with reading on their own and gets stuck on a word(s) would just skip out the word or guess it. Both skipping and guessing a word starts the process of devaluing the text and setting the person up to fail the task that has been set. By allowing the student to read on their own, it is engaging them in their study.

In a nutshell the C-Pen Exam Reader helps a school relieve the pressures of resourcing both exams and every day class room support. But most importantly a student equipped with a C-Pen is able to work and learn on their own. It increases independence, confidence and raises self-esteem, which ultimately sets them up for the real world where they’ll have to manage without the continual support of another human being. The Exam Reader has been used in the classroom and exam hall for one year, but is already having an enormous impact. Suzanne Hunt, Examinations Manager from the Henry Box School and Sixth Form commented: “She thought the pen was excellent and said she would prefer to use this than having a person read to her!” Whilst Nicole Dempsey, individual needs co-ordinator from Dixons.

Trinity Academy informed us that they “noticed a calmer and more positive attitude in exams and also increased grades/better results - sometimes drastically so - more in line with what we know the students are capable of”.

I’m very excited to report that the C-Pen Exam Reader has been shortlisted for the prestigious BETT Awards 2017 in two categories. The pens are £166.67ex vat and available in two formats, the C-Pen Reader which includes reading aloud, Collins dictionary, data capture and voice recorder, whilst the C-Pen Exam Reader only has the reading aloud functionality. Scanning Pens Ltd offers schools a 30 day free trial so they can effectively try before they buy.

Jack Churchill.

Scanning Pens Case Study - Jeanette Knowles, SENDCo from Wreake Valley

What kind of school do you work in?

We are an 11-18 mixed gender, secondary school in Leicestershire.

Did you trial the C-Pen Exam Reader initially, if so, what “review process” did you follow and what conclusions did you draw?

We trialed the C-Pen Exam Reader with a number of students and obtained feedback from the students themselves and from the teaching assistants. We also measured the change in the students’ability to complete assessments and classwork independently.

 What do you most like about the C-Pen Exam Reader?

It’s ease of use, exam approval and the light that clearly shows what text is being captured.

Please describe how you are using the C-Pen Exam Reader and how it has affected your students?

We use it with SEN/EAL students to access curriculum text and during exams. They are already showing improved confidence and independence. The students who piloted it have also encouraged other students to use them and clearly see the benefits of them.

How likely are you to recommend the C-Pen Exam Reader to others?

Definitely.