The C-Pen is a pocket-sized, lightweight device that reads printed words aloud to the user as they scan over them. This pen is a major technological breakthrough for those with dyslexia or other reading difficulties, because it gives them the independence to be able to read printed text alone.
The C-Pen is available in number of different formats. The first format is the C-Pen Reader, which is the advanced version, as it not only offers scanning function for English, French and Spanish, it is also installed with a dictionary, that allows users to look up any words they don’t understand. In addition to this, there are also several different storage and computer compatible features (more about these below).
The second format is the C-Pen Exam Reader, which has been approved for use in exams by The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). This pen still reads text aloud to students as they scan (via headphones), but the dictionary and storage functions are disabled to ensure the user does not obtain an unfair advantage in an exam.
Having a reading difficulty can seriously limit one’s available opportunities and damage their well-being and confidence. However, the C-Pen helps eliminate the anxiety and embarrassment associated with having to ask for assistance with reading. Instead, it offers those with dyslexia a sense of independence.
Not only are the words read aloud to users as the nib of the pen passes over them, but the Reader Pen can also improve their vocabulary with the touch of a button, through the inbuilt Collins English Dictionary and Oxford French and Spanish Dictionary. Furthermore, the history of any words that are searched for in the dictionary remain stored on the pen, which allows teachers or support personnel to have important conversations with students regarding their understanding of new vocabulary.
The C-Pen is primarily designed for those who have reading difficulties, in particular dyslexia. However, the pen may also be useful for those who have visual impairments or who are learning English, French or Spanish (also Italian and German with the Exam Reader) as a second language, because listening to the digital voice read words aloud may help with their pronunciation, whilst the dictionary function could assist them in understanding the meaning of new words (although users need to be aware that the dictionary is monolingual).
The concept of the C-Pen is built around the need to help students improve their reading skills, such that in 2015, PISA identified that 18% of 15-year-olds in England still fail to achieve the minimum level of literacy proficiency.
A wide range of research has proved the C-Pen to be effective. One particular study [pdf] looked at the impact of using the Reader Pen on Year 10 students with literacy difficulties. The researchers found the following outcomes after just 6 weeks of pen use:
The innovative design of the C-Pen makes it suitable for learners aged 6 or over. The manufacturers of the C-Pen have managed to keep the pen light weight so that younger children can easily grip it and don’t struggle to control it. They have also, unlike many other similar devices, installed a camera, which means users don’t have to be so precise with their scanning.
The C-Pen comes fully equipped with headphones, meaning the pen can not only be used in a noisy environment but also discretely, allowing students to avoid bringing attention to their disability and disturbing others.
Implementation of the C-Pen at home or in schools does not require specific training. However, some teachers involved in research [pdf] have claimed that one training session was simply not enough to embed the pen into school life, but that instead students needed more guidance on how and when it was appropriate to use it.
Often, those with language difficulties fall behind at school, because they have to wait for a teacher or supervisor to be available to read with them. However, the C-Pen, with its immediate readback, offers these students the independence they need, such that they are able to adjust the reading of printed content to a speed they feel comfortable with and keep pace with their peers.
When connected to a computer, the Reader Pen can be used to scan text directly into Word documents, meaning students, support personnel or even researchers don’t waste valuable time directly copying out information from one source to another. Additionally, the Reader Pen itself can hold up to 1GB of data, which is useful for students who wish to upload files to their computer later because access is not available at the time of scanning.
However, the C-Pen does not accommodate text smaller than 6.5pts or larger than 22pts. This may be a particular issue for younger users of the pen, as often children’s books use fonts larger than this. Similarly, the C-Pen only reads typed fonts – therefore, the pen offers no assistance for handwritten notes.
The C-Pen Reader and C-Pen Exam Reader come at a significant price. Both pens are available on Amazon for £230 or direct from the manufacturer (www.scanningpens.co.uk/reading_aids/) for £200 excluding VAT. The manufacturer does also offer a discount for users buying more than 5 pens and has a 30-day free trial available for schools.
We sent the C-Pen to a number of real life users so they could test it for us, and this what some of them said:
“I like that I can start highlighting something when it is reading aloud to me. It is like being read to! It is much easier than reading it myself because I am dyslexic. You can also read along with it if you want to.”
IE – aged 11
“The pen is useful when I have long comprehension passages to read, or pages in books, as it speeds up my reading. I am able to use it in class too as I can wear the earphones. At home, it is good for reading homework sheets. It is not as helpful for the reading of short sentences or for longer subject specific vocabulary – it did not always read these correctly. Overall though it is very helpful and easy to use.”
A Year 7 Student
“I thought that it was incredibly easy to set up and understand. It has a good selection of different uses because it does speech out loud, saves it to PDF and also has dictionary which is very useful. It is comfortable to hold in the hand and it seems to have a really good battery life. You have to practise getting a solid swipe across the page and also need to make sure the speed is right – not too fast or too slow or it messes up. I thought it was really good. My favourite feature is the save to PDF – great for exams. I have dysgraphia so this helps me with taking notes.”
TW – aged 19
“To begin with I found it tricky to set up. I thought I had done it right, but when I ran it across the page it was talking nonsense through my headphones! I asked somebody to help and once it was set up properly my students really enjoyed using it. It is great for letting students to focus on the meaning rather than struggle to read themselves. It can save chunks of text and also use different languages – perhaps that’s where I went wrong with the settings!”
AL – Assistant Senco
Office Lens – Office Lens is a free app that uses OCR technology to allow people to scan a wide range of documents, photos and even whiteboards onto their phone or laptop. Scanned items can be exported as a PDF, placed in the photo library or exported to one of Microsoft’s apps.
Reading Pens from Wizcomtech – these pens present a slightly cheaper (£173.55) alternative to the C-Pen. However, they are bigger and hence more obvious for students trying not to highlight their reading disability. These pens are also not installed with a camera, so scanning has to be much more precise.
The Codpast – this website offers advice on the latest technology for dyslexic people. They also publish blogs and podcasts designed to help people with dyslexia.
We have also written a number of blogs, which aim to help students who may struggle at school:
The C-Pen is a major technological breakthrough for students with reading difficulties such as dyslexia, as it offers a discrete and efficient way to read printed text. Although expensive, it may be that the C-Pen is worth paying for because of its potential to allow students with a reading disability to keep up with their peers and expand their vocabulary, hence improving their grades. However, if the C-Pen is to be implemented in schools, it is essential that teachers impose clear ground rules to ensure that they are used in the correct way and do not cause distraction.