Sitting in a small hospital in a town in Kuwait named Mahboula (‘Crazy Woman’ in Arabic), I was waiting for the doctor to write up my medical report so I could get my Ethiopian work visa. As he hunched over his keyboard slowly hunting and pecking the keys on his computer while continuously referring back to his notes before quickly going back to poking at the keyboard with his two index fingers, it really hit home how important it is for many students on our caseloads to be able to touch type….type without looking at the keyboard.
I don’t know if that makes sense inherently, but I guess what I was thinking is that a majority of the kids I’ve worked with as a self-contained teacher or learning support teacher are not going to medical school. Fact. I know their strengths and areas of need and am realistic when other professionals I have worked with over the years have given students and families unrealistic hopes…
But if the student with special needs could type without hunting and pecking the keys, that could bring them one step closer to having the skills to compete in the post-secondary education and work space. To bridge that gap.
This is to say that a lot of people can get ahead and become a doctor for example without working on a lot of smaller skills. But many students with special needs can benefit immensely in the post-secondary by increasing their ability to do a lot of small things like learning how to type, using assistive technologies like voice to text, learning organizational strategies, time management skills, collaboration skills, etc.
I wouldn’t argue that this a great strategy for all students with special needs. Some students may need to work more on fine motor abilities, or life skills, or ability to generate and organize their ideas. But many students who have various deficits could benefit from gaining the skill of being able to type without looking at the keyboard.
Think of it like a pie chart.
You have two students in a college class and they are doing their studying. If Student A has special needs and Student B does not, then we have to think of how Student A can use their strengths in order to make certain parts of the pie chart like ‘time needed to type notes’ or essays, less in order to free them up to do other things like generate ideas, make a graphic organizer to review notes, do all the reading …relax, etc.
While developing these highly scientific pie charts I was thinking that it may seem a little silly to consider dealing with something like email in the pie chart, but I have worked with students who, with coaching support and ideas from me, have spent 20 minutes drafting an email to their teacher to ask for something like a clarification or an accommodation or something. If we can give them the physical skills to cut that time down a bit by being able to type their thoughts fluidly, that can be a big help and can help reduce anxiety.
On the other hand, I worked with a student who was very slow in general processing, but could type real fast and it not only helped him when working in groups, doing research, etc., it also gave him a little something to be proud of when he didn’t readily see himself as having a lot strengths. You could see the smile pop up on his face when it was commented how quick a typer he was.
In the end, if we can help give a student the skills to cut out bits of time throughout the day in different activities it can lead to more and more time that they can devote to other things, and this adds up over the days and months. In this pie chart example I put forth we have a student with special needs spending 7% more time a day typing up their thoughts. If we can give them the skills to cut down that 7% then we will be setting up our students (or children) to be more competitive with their peers that don’t have special needs.
It’s like cyclists who try to shave off grams from their bike here and there in order to make their bike as quick as possible. You may only take off 20 grams here and 70 grams there, but the final result is a bike that will give the rider an advantage. That’s the goal of helping a student with special needs to learn to touch type. They won’t necessarily win the race, nor will they shave off huge amounts of their time in the race, but they will improve incrementally and that will free them up to do other things.
When will teachers or students find the time to do this?
Cats are busy outside of school and we are seemingly increasingly more busy during the school day. But I have been able to find time for students who we decided could really benefit from touch typing. At my last school I worked at for example we had a student have a goal in his IEP to increase typing speeds and we would work on it for about 10-15 minutes three times a week during our 80 minute resource blocks. And if there were times that maybe he wanted to work on some school work or something we would try to incorporate the touch typing into the writing activities to keep it moving.
I am also a proponent of students building skills (i.e. in math) over their breaks (i.e. winter break). I have lived the boredom and seen the boredom of students on breaks. Or if they aren’t bored I have seen the students spend 7 hour marathon days on the video game systems. So I am always trying to work with students and their families to carve out 20 to 30 minutes a day to work on Khan Academy for math skills, or typing skills, for example.
Students can watch videos and play games as they use the home row.
Once you set the purpose and get the buy-in from the student and parents, you find a baseline touch typing speed, set a reasonable goal, set a plan of action and bam!
I imagine some cats that are reading this article are thinking that voice to text is key. And it is, and I work with the same students on building their capacity to use Assistive Tech (AT) tools like Siri on their phone and voice-to-text on their laptops.
However, an argument can be made that having the touch typing skills can be super useful if they are sitting in a class and want to take some notes, or are in a cubicle or front desk, or are busting out a quick email, or are on a learning management system for an online class and have to knock out a quick paragraph response, etc.
Additionally, some students I have worked with don’t always like to use the voice to text because they have to add the extra step of going back and edit it, rearrange it, etc. They find that when they are typing it they can be in a better flow state and make it all happen at the moment. You know what I mean?
So by providing some students with extrinsic push to build these skills I feel that we are giving them a leg up and will free them up to focus on other things. Thus they are able to perform their best.
I have had this idea for several years and still feel this way even as voice to text is increasingly becoming more omnipresent and way more user friendly. I remember the early years when you had to buy things like Dragon Dictation and teach them how to use it and have special microphones and it still didn’t work well. Now you can see students dictating essays into their smart phones! But even with that I contend that the touch typing skills are still valuable, and especially for students who have gaps in their skills and need every little help to even the playing field.
So consider the following things as you go about your practice:
– dedicate a small amount of time to a typing program in the Resource class
– tell parents in the spring or before winter break to consider doing it over the summer for like 15 minutes a day
– make a goal for a student (either with them if they agree or through IEP) and help them reach the goal (i.e. progress monitor, encourage, give them the software!)
If you think that we should be focusing on different things, or if you have other ideas or know better ways to learn to type, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.