Empowerment and Star Trek

Today I want to tell you about Sarah.

Sarah is a student in my grade 10 academic English class. I don’t have to engage Sarah. She came engaged and ready to learn because she has goals, big goals, laudable goals. But, Sarah struggles in my class sometimes. She has a hard time keeping up with the readings. Sarah has dyslexia.

I had Sarah in my class last year when she was in grade nine and we worked on various support tools to help her with the class work, but the unfortunate drawback is many tools are not easy or convenient to utilize; some even require something akin to a computer science degrees to figure them out! We were able to successfully use Learning Tools in Microsoft OneNote and WordQ allow give Sarah the text to speech feature and hear many of the readings we studied.

I was never really happy with any of the solutions for Sarah because they didn’t truly fit her needs. All of the tools required digital readings that could then be manipulated by any given tool to be read aloud. All of this meant Sarah had a lot of extra steps to be able to do the same work as anyone else in the class.

By the end of that semester, Sarah felt perhaps the applied level would be better for her because it wasn’t as strenuous and didn’t require as much reading. This made me sad because Sarah has TONS of potential. I felt like I had failed her.

Flash forward to September. Three days into the semester, Sarah came to me and said she wanted to join my class. She didn’t want the applied level because her aspirations involve going to university. Great! I know she can do it, we just need to find the right tools and I was ready this time! I had been to the ConnectEd 2017 Conference the previous April and had found the perfect tool for Sarah. While at the conference I came across a booth showcasing the C-Pen reader pens. It was a bit like a Star Trek moment come to life.

A reading pen is about the size of a highlighter and used in much the same way. As you ‘scan’ over the text with the pen, it reads it aloud to you. There is a port for ear buds and it comes complete with a dictionary built in as well as a translator. I couldn’t believe it when I traced a line of English in a book and instantly it was read aloud to me in Spanish!

I was even happier when I told my principal about the pens and she agreed to buy a set for our school. So when Sarah came to me worried about keeping up with the reading I directed her to go borrow one of the pens. Her parents have since ordered a pen for her because of its ease of use, portability and convenience. She never has to worry about scanning pages into a computer, if the book is available digitally, or how much the digital version might cost.

Sarah came to me already engaged, what she needed was to be empowered. A portable reader pen has helped to empower Sarah.

Sarah’s story was the first thing that came to mind when considering engagement vs. empowerment, but while reflecting and writing about her story, I also came to the realization that Sarah wasn’t the only empowered person in this scenario. I was also empowered as an educator. I have the support of my administrators, and also of a larger Digital Lead Learner team that have empowered me to take risks and learn new things. Without empowerment, I would have been at a loss in knowing where to start to help Sarah and I certainly wouldn’t have been at the conference and would still not know a pen the likes of something from Star Trek even existed.



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