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