I had a chance at NECC 2009 to meet up with Chris from WizCom Technologies to see some of their new reading solutions. For those of you who may not be familiar with Wizcom, they develop handheld reading tools with built-in optical character recognition (OCR) software that can scan text from a book and read it using text to speech (TTS). Once the text is scanned into the device, the WizCom Readingpen using text to speech (TTS) will highlight each word and read the text on the screen. The WizCom ReadingPens also includes extensive dictionary supports which allows students to look up words they are unfamiliar with and hear them being read with the text to speech. Over the years I have used the ReadingPen Basic Edition K-12 which includes the American Heritage® Children’s Dictionary and Thesaurus with good success with elementary and middle school students.
Like all technology the key is to match the features of the tool to the student. I can remember quite vividly that when I demonstrated the Readingpen to my graduate students (all of whom are certified teachers) , that one of my students got quite excited with what she saw. After class my student approached me and asked if she could try out the Readingpen with one of her students, which I said of course. My graduate student went back into her classroom and implemented the Readingpen with her student with great success. I can recall that at the end of the semester my student brought a card into me from her student who was using the Readingpen thanking me for introducing it to her and how it helped her throughout the year with reading text. What a great feeling to know that the Readingpen made a such a difference in the student's life. These are the stories that keep me motivated to teach others about new tools and gadgets that can assist students with reading and writing disabilities.
While at NECC 2009, I was able to see first hand the recently released ReadingpenTS, which includes a touch screen technology along with the option to choose between two different dictionaries, as well as the ability to connect the ReadingPen via a USB cable to a Windows based PC. The ReadingpenTS now includes a Children's and College level dictionary to choose from- giving the student more ways to cutomize their experience. The ReadingpenTS is a little larger than previous models which may make it a better tool for a middle to high school students. Having access to a touch screen allows student to directly interact with the text making it easier to select the word they want to have read or look up in the dictionary. The ReadingpenTS also gives students the ability to use a stylus and a virtual keyboard to manually enter words to be looked up which is a nice feature. The virtual keyboard will try to suggest works once you begin to input letters to help you along the way. The stylus is tucked away and secured within the slot provided on the side of the ReadingpenTS. The student will need to have good fine motor skills to use the stylus and virtual keyboard since the letters are small due to the limited real estate of the touch screen. The ReadingpenTS is designed to let you navigate the features using a 5 Way Toggle button located towards the front of the pen. I found the navigation system to be intuitive and work well for moving about the options. The ReadingpenTS can syllabicate words, provide you with definitions, synonyms as well as provide the student with English to Spanish translation. I found it very easy to move about the various options with the 5 Way Toggle and feel that students will find it easy to do as well.
If you have not taken a look at the Readingpens in awhile I urge you to do so. While some of the earlier models did have difficulty with recognizing the text, you will find that the ReadingpenTS with its faster microprocessor and advanced OCR software does an extremely good job of recognizing the text. I would say that if the quality of the text you are scanning is good and you get your technique down that you should achieve somewhere in the 96%-98% accuracy when scanning the material. Students can listen to the text being read discreetly using the headset that is supplied that plugs into the device. The ReadingpenTS is an ideal accommodation tool for students with reading disabilities during testing situations. The ReadingpenTS would allow student the ability to take the test independently without the need to have a reader. Likewise, if you need to, teachers can turn off the ability for the student to access the built-in dictionary or thesaurus when using the ReadingpenTS in a testing situation.
One of the new features of the ReadingpenTS is the ability to connect it via a USB cable to a PC. Right now this feature is only available for students using a Windows PS. Prior to connecting the ReadingpenTS to your PC, you install the PenExplorer application and drivers from the CD that is provided. Once you have installed the software you can view the contents of the History.txt file on the PC to review the words that the students has looked up in the dictionary. More importantly, The PenExplorer application lets teachers upload text files (.txt) to the Readingpen TS with up to 9000 characters that can then be opened and read on the ReadingPen TS. Using the Notepad application I copied and pasted some text from the book Call of the Wild and saved it to my desktop. I then dragged the Call of the Wild text file to the Notes folder within the PenExplorer. I then plugged in my ReadingpenTS and selected Connect to PC on the Main Menu on the ReadingpenTS which automatically, in the background, uploaded the Call of the Wild text file to to my Radingpen. Once I disconnected the Readingpen TS from the computer I was able to open the file and have the Radingpen TS read it aloud. Just think of all of the ways that you could use that to accommodate your students with reading disabilities in the classroom. Once they have access to the text in the pen they can also look up words and provide them with a context for developing their personal vocabulary. I was very impressed with the features of the ReadingpenTS and urge you to take a look at it for your middle and high school students with reading difficulties. Of course there always has to be a good match between the tasks, tools and the learning style of the student-but it is important to have lots of tools at your disposal for those students that you work with. For more information about the ReadingpenTS go to the WizCom Website.