MINI STUDY OF THE READER PEN WITH VISUALLY IMPAIRED CHILDREN

We have often been asked if children with poor eyesight would be able to use the pen and have found that this question can only truly be answered by utilising the pen with the individual child.

Visual impairment is the term used to describe a wide range of eye sight loss.  80% of our learning is via vision (RNIB, 2018), therefore the impact of sight loss for the student requires other supportive techniques to be introduced and explored to enable learning to continue. 

We were very fortunate to be approached by WESC Foundation, The Specialist Centre for Visual Impairment School in the South West of England, who invited us into the school to meet their students and to bring along the Reader Pens for the students to have access to alongside the myriad of tech they currently utilise.  We understood this was potentially an enhanced area of need and the children may not only have visual impairment but a wide range of other disabilities and needs, therefore the reading pen may potentially be of use to only a small number of students.  However, we felt it was important to meet with the students and teachers to talk about visual impairment and the variety of tools the student may find of use to make up for their 80% of learning being impacted upon due to visual impairment.

Many of the WESC Foundation students have severe impaired vision and therefore it was obvious the reading pen would be a hindrance to them as there is a requirement to be able to have some vision to follow a line of text.  However, one of the tutors commented the pen would be useful for students who do have slight impairments and some reading difficulties.  Furthermore, another tutor commented:

“I felt that some students with adequate vision to identify a line of text, the pen is useful”.

Dexterity was also commented upon, some WESC Foundation students have physical disabilities alongside their visual impairments and therefore being able to align the pen could prove difficult.  Recommendations for double spacing of text and to be a larger font were considered and although this works well for the Foundation the ability to access readily produced information is of import for the children to familiarise themselves with, for when they become adults.  Alternatively, an identified positivity was the pen’s potential for every day use such as “good for labels and very short text”. 

Many of the tutors also have visual impairment and of note was one tutor with nystagmus; an involuntary ‘wobble’ movement of the eyes from side to side or up and down, resulting in an unclear image (RNIB, 2018).  For this tutor being able to control the pen to run along a line required a great deal of concentration and after a period would become difficult for him.

Summary:

For many students attending the Foundation the pen was unsuitable due to their level of visual impairment and/or disabilities.  The students with less severe visual impairment were able to use the pen; however, the school has a clear focus of enabling these students to lead independent adult lives and therefore accessing every day literature.  The Foundation could see the benefit of the pen, particularly when using double spaced text and at a font size that enabled the student to use the pens independently.  The pen was recognised as a good tool for reading labels and short pieces of text. 

Conditions such as nystagmus due to the movement of the eyes creating issues as the text will appear to ‘jump’, was thought to be helped with the pen doing the hard work, however due to the concentration required to try to refocus the effort becomes exhausting when using for large pieces of work.  Overcoming such difficulties have been considered by Scanning Pens, such as creating a vibration to enable the user to know the pen has lost ‘sight’ of the text to help the user to realign the pen.  Other users have made use of a ruler or guide to help them keep on track.

The staff and students of WESC Foundation were helpful and we would like to thank them for the time and effort they took to invite Scanning Pens and the Reader Pens into their wonderful school.  We have always stated the pens are a tool that may suit some but not others and the individual learning needs of the user must be considered above everything else. 

 

Christine Franklin

Projects Co-Ordinator

 

 

Reference:

 RNIB Supporting people with sight loss (2018), Information about vision impairment: Guide for parents [Online].  Available at : https://www.rnib.org.uk/sites/default/files/APDF-ENG021603_Early%20Support%20Parents%20Information_0.pdf (Accessed 21 June 2018).

Exam Anxiety – keep looking after yourself!

The exams are underway! A stressful time for many students and parents. Anxiety, stress and nerves are completely normal but for some they will be overwhelming.  When it becomes overwhelming our brains can produce lots of cortisol, the stress hormone, which impacts our memory.  So how can we help now? Is it too late? Well no, it’s not.

Anxiety is a fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being able to deal with something terrible happening. Fear that you will look stupid. Fear that you will be unlovable if you don’t pass all your exams. Fear that you will let people down if you don’t achieve a certain grade.  Fear that people will think less of you if you aren’t as clever as they think.  The fear doesn’t have to be rational – it is real for the person thinking it. Whether you or I understand it is irrelevant. It’s what they are feeling. Sometimes this fear is so great they would rather not even try.  I have worked with students who refuse to write anything - if they don’t try they can’t fail and their fear can’t come true.  They are happier in their comfort zone of not doing anything, even if that feels illogical to us.

Anyone around young people during the time of their exams must keeping saying their exams are a stepping stone, they do no define who they are, and they are loved regardless of the result.  Too many students are told the rest of their life depends on their results.  They don’t. I’m in my forties (yes I know I don’t look it) and nobody cares that I failed my Science exam first time.   It is also crucial young people know their value is not their results, that we won’t love them any less if they don’t do as well as expected.  And don’t think ‘well yes I am sure they know that’, they don’t. They don’t know it. Tell them. Regularly.  The love/respect I have for you is not dependent on your exam results.  And it’s not.  I didn’t decide to marry my husband because he got good GCSE grades.  In fact, I don’t even know what grades he got.  Or my friends grades! Who actually says to someone “I like you a little bit less cos you didn’t get an A in History?”   Reassure them they are loved and respected no matter what their results. 

_E1G8624.jpg

 

We can also help by ensuring students maintain a healthy life balance up to and during exams.  Constantly studying is not healthy physically and mentally.  We have to have fun regularly. We have to do things we enjoy.  We all need a break from the constant stress and pressure. Particularly when that stress and pressure is intense. Having fun and feeling relaxed produces good happy chemicals which helps improve our brains and memories. Research shows that watching funny happy videos before an exam improves performance.  As part of the health lifestyle also try to maintain a regular sleep pattern and have breakfast!!  Brains need food.

We also have to think about the language we use.  Don’t permanently use negative language as a motivator.  Think about sports people before big events.  Are they motivated by saying “You haven’t done enough, and you will probably fail” or “You’re not very good really and you may not win” or “You are the worst team I have ever worked with”?  No! They are motivated by visualising winning and being positive.  Don’t put the negative idea in the head, put the positive. 

Practice relaxing breathing should anxiety come during and exam.  The simplest one is to count as you breathe in and out and just make sure you breathe out for a longer count than you breathe in. That’s it.  There is some fabulous scientific reason why breathing out for longer is important, but I haven’t got a clue what it is.

We also need to think and prepare for results day. Anxiety doesn’t end just because the exams have finished. Anxiety around results day can be just as debilitating. Relief the exams are over can be temporary respite. As results day comes closer the anxiety is likely to start to increase.    Remember anxiety is fear of the unknown.  Reassurance that whatever the result, they will be OK is vital.   Discuss all possible results options and what they can do in each scenario.  This is really important.  The number of students who haven’t been told all their post results options would surprise you.  Often, we don’t want to discuss it as we don’t want to give them ‘an easier way out’, they have to aspire to the best option only.  This doesn’t work, it only compounds the anxiety. It increases the pressure which affects performance.  Many students believe they can never take that exam again.  They only count once in school league tables, but they can certainly be taken again and there are many post exam options.

Overwhelming anxiety is real for a lot of people. The correct support can make all the difference.  The most important message?  Regardless of your results you will be OK, and you will be loved.

Sam Garner - May 2018