Thomas G. West

C-PEN, ReaderPen (TM)


Many years ago an old friend showed me her text-reading device -- a book scanner and optical character reader with various voices and speeds. As a long-time researcher, author and teacher in the dyslexia field, she was fascinated with the printer-sized desktop device and explained to me the details of its operation. I was partly familiar with the basic technology, but I was amazed that it was available at a reasonable price and size. I was especially taken aback when she had it read a few paragraphs from my own first book. My own words -- with a machine voice. 


Later, I was visiting a dyslexic university professor who is world famous in his field. At the time, he was teaching 19 graduate students who were working for their PhD’s. He explained that he rarely read any of their written submissions. Rather, they submitted their work via computer -- and he had his computer read the papers aloud to him. 


This professor strongly encouraged the students to “read the book of nature”, through careful and open-minded observation -- and to not pay too much attention to what others had written or thought. Indeed, this professor noted to me that he rarely read anything except signs in an airport or the like. Rather, he said he tried hard to get his grad students to observe carefully what they would see and learn to “think like a dyslexic.” 


Thus, over time, I had found that you could learn a lot from just looking and thinking (even doing high level work) -- but that it was sometimes useful to read as well -- and useful to have a machine to provide some help when needed. 


For many years I have observed and written about technology trends, especially miniaturization. However, I was not fully aware of the further development of the amazing capabilities of tiny devices until I was asked to use and comment on the C-PEN ReaderPen (TM). 


One merely scans the lighted lines of text and the device reads it back to you in a UK or US voice. If you are not sure of a word, a dictionary is provided with a long-form definition. It can do these things in Spanish and French as well as English. It is small and easy to handle, recharging through a standard USB connector (provided). It can store text and even record your voice commentaries, easily switching to left-hand mode when desired. This is a lot of technology and power to fit inside a comparatively tiny device, the size of two ordinary plastic pens.


I am a dyslexic writer who has studied visual thinking, visual technologies, and dyslexia, having authored three books. I love books and the worlds that they open for me -- and how they allow me to communicate with others. However, I read very slowly (and I like to think, deeply), often rereading sections because I have misread some word, making nonsense out of the context.


I also know that I often prefer hearing spoken words (with related visual graphics) rather than merely reading them. I once found that I could understand Shakespeare’s plays much better by listening to them as I read the printed words. (I have good friends who experience the reverse, often preferring reading to listening.) I am amazed at the power of the ReaderPen. Although I can read with some facility, I plan now to carry it with me daily -- expecting to find many useful ways of employing its rich capabilities for reading, pronouncing, storing, recording, defining, and describing. 


-- Thomas G. West, author of In the Mind’s Eye, Thinking Like Einstein and Seeing What Others Cannot See. 


* * * * *


“I have found the C-Pen ReaderPen to be an enormous help for dyslexics and others with reading difficulties. Its ease of use and multiple capabilities make it a kind of “Swiss Army Knife” for cutting through many of the problems associated with reading, memory and comprehension. Highly recommended. “



-- Thomas G. West, author of In the Mind’s Eye, Thinking Like Einstein andSeeing What Others Cannot See. 


Gonzales Independent School District

Your name

Virginia Appleman

Your role

instructor -- biology and anatomy & physiology Your school name: Gonzales High School

Describe your school (type, age, location, demographic etc)

Small/med, working class, central Texas, lots of English learners and secondary English speakers

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

No, didn’t try it out, purchased Reader Pen

What do you most like about the Reader Pen?

Flexibility, ease of use

Please describe how you are using the Reader Pen?

As alternative to read aloud exams -- we have no co-teachers, and there is no learning lab/resource class to send test-takers

Please describe how the use of the Reader Pen has affected your students (performance, confidence, independence etc)?

Overall, test scores improved for those using them

How likely are you to recommend the Reader Pen to others? 

Highly likely. I think that they are going to be important as schools scale back special populations staff.

Any other comments you would like to add?

Push to get the pen approved for use on Texas’ standardized tests.

Cerro Gordo Elementary School

Your name

Chris Ridgeway

Your role

Special Ed Teacher K-6

Your school name

Cerro Gordo Elementary

Describe your school (type, age, location, demographic etc)

Elementary School K-6, Average 300 students ranging 5-13 years old, Rural community

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

Did not trial, purchased Reader Pen

What do you most like about the Reader Pen?

Its ability to read multiple sources (books, maps, globes)

Please describe how the use of the Reader Pen has affected your students (performance, confidence, independence etc)? 

I honestly can’t find the words to describe the impact it had on one of my students. This child was able to take a test and feel independent for the first time in his life.

Please describe any other areas in school you feel the  Reader Pen has helped (staff time savings, school results, cost savings etc)

Haven’t heard of many other schools using it in my area.

How likely are you to recommend the Reader Pen to others?

I highly recommend it and do when the opportunity arises.

Mandy Overgaard, Resource Teacher, College Heights Secondary School, Canada

Student: CW

Pre-Use Survey:

What is your biggest struggle in each of your courses?

a. English: Reading
b. Math: Reading
c. Geography: Reading

d. Tech: Reading

 What do you think the most useful aspect of this device will be?

“It can read it to me.”

 How often do you use a reader (staff in resource or other)?

“Very often.”

If you didn’t have the C-Pen, what would you use to help you with reading?

“My phone or my computer - I type everything out on my phone and get it to read back to me. The pen will probably save me lots of time.”

Post-Use Survey:

Did you find the pen useful?

“Yes, I have found the pen very useful. I use the pen in all of my subjects and at home to read.”

Was the pen easy to use?


Did you have any issues using the pen? If so, what specifically?


What was the greatest benefit of this device?

“It helped me read on my own, I didn’t have to ask other people to read to me.”

Would you recommend it to other students who need assistance reading?

“Ya, it’s easier than using the computer or read-and-write. The pen is easier to carry around and doesn’t distract me in class like the computer did when I used Google read-and-write.”

 Did you use the dictionary feature?

“No, I never needed to know what a word meant, but I would use it if I needed to know.”

Continuous Feedback Log:

February 12, 2018
CW first weekend with the pen went well. He is using the pen to read a novel independently!

February 13, 2018
CW discovered the ability to scroll back up through the text he has already scanned and click on a word to re-read that portion. He is really enjoying this function as it is helping him understand material better.

March 5, 2018
CW is still really enjoying the pen to do his work and to read his novel. He has tried to use it to play cards (i.e. Magic Cards, Yugioh) but he says the text is too small for the pen to read it.
CW has gained full independence in mathematics as he no longer needs a person to read the questions to him.


CW is an LD with Communication - Language Impairment. His challenges include phonological awareness and processing (relationship between spoken and written language), word reading, phonological processing, and phonological awareness. He has shown remarkable progress since using the pen.

Before he had the C-Pen, he needed constant 1-1 support in resource for reading his worksheets, readings and questions. Since using the pen, he rarely requires assistance. One of the greatest gains has been in mathematics. CW required one- on-one support for reading math questions in the resource room. The pen enabled him to access the questions independently reducing his need to access the resource room and freeing up and EA or Resource Teacher. CW has also used the pen at home and in his spare time to read for pleasure. He was really excited when he first got the pen. He indicated if he were to not have access to the pen in the future, he would greatly miss it and the freedom it brings him to work on his own at his own pace. His independence and confidence has skyrocketed. I think the pen has been invaluable in improving CW’s educational experience.

By Mandy Overgaard, Resource Teacher, College Heights Secondary School


Albert Einstein Academy Charter School

Your name

Michael Jensen

Your role

Education Specialist

Your school name

Albert Einstein Academy Charter School

Describe your school (type, age, location, demographic etc)

K-5, San Diego, very mixed across socio-economic and ethnicity categories.

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

Reader – We let the students use the pen first by themselves without any help. Then we explained anything that needed explaining. Our purpose for this was to see how easy it was for them to just pick up and use. If it was easy to use, then it was beneficial for us to get. The students did very well with it the first time through as the pen is very user-friendly.

What do you most like about the Reader Pen?

I like the ease of use and the rate at which it reads words.

Please describe how you are using the Reader Pen?

We use the Reader Pen with our students that struggle to read exams as well as other reading materials that they would need to be autonomous for. It’s ease of use allows me to work with many different students at a time while the ones using the Reader Pens can typically do work on their own.

Please describe how the use of the Reader Pen has affected your students’ (performance, confidence, independence etc.)?

I can see an improvement in their confidence. They are able to access their curriculum better and this improves their confidence. They see the benefit of using it.

Please describe any other areas in school you feel the Reader Pen has helped (staff time savings, school results, cost savings etc)

It has definitely helped me free myself up so that I can work with more students at once. The ease of use with the pen allows for more students to be autonomous. It is great!

How likely are you to recommend the Reader Pen to others?
I am very likely to recommend the Reader Pen to other colleagues. It is a great tool that allows a teacher to spread themselves out across a larger caseload and be effective at the same time.


Feedback from Jo-Anne, parent/educator, Ontario

You asked for some feedback.  Here are a few observations:

It’s one thing to accept the challenges of dyslexia in general.  It’s another to have to sit in math class with your hand up all the time – not because you can’t do math- but because you are unsure of the phrasing of the questions.  For our son, waiting for help was like a constant reminder of his helplessness and disability.  Now that he uses the c-pen, he can work independently and if he does need the teacher in math class, it will be for math – just like everyone else in the room.

We have a few children who badly need a quiet place to work.  But without the ability to read well, these students cannot ever be sent out of the teacher’s eye.  Now that we have c-pens, they can leave the room or go to the library… and there will be no excuse not to get their work done.

You’d think students would be hesitant to publicly use the c-pen?  Not in our experience.  In younger grades, peers go home asking their parents to get them one – it’s techy and cool.  In older grades, there is no way to hide your struggles.  We’ve found the c-pen to be embraced by older students as something they can use to help them be more independent.

Do parents worry the c-pen will become addictive and keep students from learning to read?  From our experience, the c-pen is one of the stepping stones to reading.  Once a child experiences the joys of ‘knowing what something says’ they become more open to trying to read.  The c-pen enables persistence to pay off for the child who is trying to make sense of the printed word.

Formerly, challenged high school students taking the grade 10 literacy test would all need scribes.  This year a few students opted for the c-pen instead and took the test “like every one else”.

At a recent teacher’s conference, we took our pen to our lunch sharing session.  In no time people around the table were whisking it off to show colleagues around the room what it does.  I’m sure the c-pen will continue to develop, but alreadyit offers a good solution to a wide population in a number of settings.

The C-Pen Reader Packs A Lot of Features in a Small Package

When I came across the C-Pen Reader at the FETC conference this past year, I knew that I had to request a review unit to test it out. After contacting the company, they approved my request and C-Pen Reader provided me a C-Pen Reader for the review. The opinions reflected in this blog are my own. I have been in the field of assistive technology for over 25 years and over these years have looked at a number of portable hand held reading solutions that promised to make the reading process easy and quick from scanning to reading text. 

The first time you pick up the C-Pen Reader you will be amazed by it size and weight (1.7 oz.) and a bright OLED 256 x 64 display. The C-Pen Reader packs a lot of technology into a rather small package making it easy to pack in your backpack or brief case. The C-Pen Reader comes with a Quick Start Guide which gets you up and running quickly. In the box you will find the C-Pen, a USB to Micro USB cable (for charging and transfring files), ear buds, and a protective carrying case. The C-Pen Reader was already charged right out of the box and so I jumped in and turned it on. Pressing the Power button started up the C-Pen Reader and now I was ready to scan some text. Gliding the C-Pen Reader across a line of text, you will begin to experience just how fast the text is scanned into the device. Within seconds the line of text was being read with highlighting by the C-Pen Reader using a high quality American English text to speech engine. Using the navigation buttons-students could go back and have the text re-read as they see fit. There are lots of ways to customize the reading experience by jumping into the Menu system to control the speed (Slow, Medium, & Fast) and volume. The C-Pen Reader has an 3.5 mm audio jack which enables students to plug in their ear buds so that they can use the C-Pen Reader in a classroom, discreetly. One C-Pen Reader of the problems that I often found using handheld scanning pens was that the scanning algorithms and the optical character recognition engines were rather poor which often resulted in devices speaking gibberish. This was not the case with the C-Pen Reader-the scanning was fast and accurate making it a pleasant reading experience. As long as you have a steady hand you will find the accuracy to be excellent. The C-Pen Reader can be set up for Right or Left handed scanning making it easier to customize the scanning direction resulting in a better experience. The C-Pen Reader also has a built-in dictionary (Collins 10th Edition) support allowing students to scan and look up words they are unfamiliar with. 


The C-Pen Reader has a number of other features that allow students to use the device as a voice recorder for creating voice notes in a MP3 file format that can be listened to and managed on the scanning pen. The C-Pen Reader comes with 1 GB of storage so there is plenty of room to store audio and voice notes. This feature can come in handy for students who need to record their ideas or lectures and then transfer them to their computer. When the C-Pen Reader is plugged into a Mac or PC it mounts as a drive, making it easy to transfer audio and text files. 

Students may also find using the C-Pen Reader useful as a means to scan text from articles and books directly into a word processor. By plugging the C-Pen Reader into a computer, you can put it into a keyboard mode which inputs any text you scan directly to the application that is open. Students will find this a great feature when they need to do research or to place the text into a word processor with Text-To-Speech capabilities. Teachers can also use this feature to pre-scan text into a File on the C-Pen Reader device that the student can open when they need access to the text in the classroom.

The C-Pen Reader packs a lot of features into a small package that students will find easy to navigate. For students that have been diagnosed with dyslexia or a reading disability the C-Pen Reader offers a great portable reading solution. The C-Pen Reader offers students a way to access text in a small discreet package that can be easily used in the classroom. I would see this an ideal solution for students who need to access tests, worksheets, and short reading passages. The C-Pen Reader gives students the opportunity to access text independently in the classroom with a light and powerful tool. In future releases I would like to be able to change the size of the font that is displayed on the C-Pen Reader and for classroom use it wold be great if teachers could manage a set of these devices that would enable them to easily pre-load text into a classrooms set of C-Pen Readers.

By Brian Friedlander



Jack Liu, SPS AT Specialist, Somerville MA

Somerville Public Schools (SPS) in Massachusetts, USA, currently serves over 1000 students with special needs across its ten schools grades K-12. Many of our students with special needs include learners with reading and specific learning disabilities, which affect their access to instructional texts. Our district currently employs several assistive technology (AT) tools and devices to accommodate these learning challenges.

When I saw the C-Pen in action at ATIA, I knew it would be an amazing fit for some of our struggling readers who have extensive difficulty decoding words but no problem comprehending text read to them by another person. While there are many alternative options of AT to provide optical character recognition (OCR) scanning and text-to-speech (TTS), some of our learners needed something simpler to use, lighter weight, easier to access, doesn’t necessarily take away their opportunity to learn reading, and something that would provide immediate audio feedback. The C-Pen Reader looks like a highlighter marker and doesn’t stand out as much as a tablet or laptop computer. Its headset also provides a discrete means for the students to listen to the audio feedback without distracting other students during class lectures and independent reading time. The C-Pen Reader was additionally helpful for one of our students who is enrolled in a bilingual classroom program as it can scan and read aloud multiple languages. As versatile and user friendly as the C-Pen is, we also recognize that it is not a cure-all, and each learner should be exposed to multiple means of representation and engagement according to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

For this pilot trial, I identified two school teams that each serviced one struggling reader between two SPS grade K-8 schools. One student participant was part of a bilingual school program and struggled with reading both English and in his mother tongue. The student participants did not have any visual impairments or physical limitations that would inhibit their ability to track sentences during reading and restrict their ability to hold a writing utensil. Before the trial started, I introduced the C-Pen Reader and Exam Reader pen to each team and trained them on how to utilize it in the classroom environment. The teachers were responsible for identifying incidental opportunities across the school day to observe the students using the C-Pens and collecting data on student usage. The student participants were encouraged to use the C-Pens across the school day whether they were being observed or not, whenever applicable, to increase their familiarity with the smartpen.

Data collection was divided into three phases, which included a “No AT Baseline” phase, “C-Pen Familiarizing” phase, and “C-Pen Reading Comprehension Scoring” phase. Data in the first phase was mostly collected prior to the C-Pen trial during each student’s initial AT evaluation period to demonstrate what they were capable of without the use of any assistive technology. The second phase measured whether the students were able to complete a reading task with the C-Pen Reader and how independent they were with using the smartpen. Once the students demonstrated relative familiarity with the C-Pen Reader, they moved onto the third phase to measure independence rate, reading task completion rate, and reading comprehension scoring for each task (or, data point).

The overall conclusion is that both student participants were able to develop independence to successfully use the C-Pen Reader to scan and read class material. Each student participant was able to demonstrate positive growth towards meeting an IEP benchmark objective on accessing the reading curriculum. By the third phase, each student was able to
maintain a 100% independence rate and task completion rate, with gradually improving scores in reading comprehension. The data shows that the C-Pen is an appropriate AT device to support both student participants’ access to instructional reading materials and learning process.

Here are some comments made by the teachers who either worked directly with the student participants on using the C-Pen or have seen the positive changes in their general motivation to learn and become active participants in school:

“(Student) seems more interested in participating more actively when working independently.”
- ELA Teacher

“(ELA Teacher) showed me the electronic highlighter for reading that (Student) is trying out when I came to pick him up for OT today. The excitement on his face was so wonderful to see. His enthusiasm carried over to our session; he was so focused and seemed to have so much more energy for tasks he usually dreads… When I praised him, he kept saying things like, “I’m getting better with everything- with reading, with jumping, writing… everything!”
- OT Teacher

During Ciencias class, he told me, “(The C-Pen) was there when I needed it!”
- Science Teacher

“He likes it! He is trying it with single words (ounce, pound), sentences and paragraphs and is answering questions.”
- Resource Room Teacher

“He was proud that he could find the words in sentences that needed correction.”
- Resource Room Teacher

“(Student) enjoys using the pen. It has given him access, and a sense of control and confidence in developing his reading ability.”
- Resource Room Teacher