NOTE: Please see these related articles on touch typing skills and resources:
More and more schools are teaching typing to students as young as first grade as a way of preparing them for a world increasingly reliant on keyboarding skills in hopes of preparing them for an increasingly technology-centered world.
I am not in a position to agree or disagree, although there are many individuals who have planted themselves in both camps. All I know is that in order to communicate effectively with their sighted peers and to compete on an equal playing field, our students with visual impairments need to learn to type. It isn’t even a question of “if”…more like “when” and “how”. This article will attempt to answer these questions.
There are varying opinions on the age that students should be introduced to keyboarding and that’s probably because students develop physically at different rates. It isn’t so much the age as the skills and physical attributes needed to accomplish the task. Here are a few examples:
As you can see from the above list, some students may be ready to learn to type by age six while others may not be ready, physically or developmentally, until well past that if at all.
It is the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment that a student can be successful when learning to touch type. Here are a few tips:
As mentioned in a previous article, orientation to the keyboard is essential. Students need to know the location of the keys they will need to interact with their screen reader, even if they don’t need to do so often. Finding fun and interesting ways to introduce these critical keys will help engage your student. Here are a couple examples.
When I first started teaching keyboarding, I wanted to give students and easy way to remember where to find the keys on the level with the space bar without confusing them. I settled on a sandwich metaphor that I called the “Alt Sandwich” because there is an Alt on either side of the spacebar.
If you think of the spacebar as the “meat” in the middle of the sandwich, then work your way out on either direction, you will find the “Alt” cheese keys. One more further out is the “Window” bread. That’s where the metaphor has to end because none of the keys are the on both sides at that point. Usually it isn’t a stretch to introduce the control keys as the two “end keys” and make sure they know the application key is only located on the right side between the Control and Windows Keys.
Above each control key is a Shift key. Since this key is used mainly to capitalize letters, I tell students it’s the longest key on either side of the keyboard (not counting the spacebar). Most kids know capital letters in print are taller/bigger than uncapitalized letters.
Among other factors indicating that a student is ready to start touch typing is the ability to keep hands in a “resting position” on a keyboard for a minimum of five to ten seconds. Usually, that position is on the home row, but really any consistent position to start from is fine.
To help practice this, I used to tell students to pretend that they had super glue on their fingers when they were at rest and when practicing the home row where fingers don’t need to reach and press other keys. This helped most of them make a sort of game of it…press the right keys with the right fingers without removing them from their designated resting spot (this doesn’t count slight bouncing when pressing and releasing keys).
Before you start putting your student in a touch typing program, take a deep breath and determine your baseline.
If your student has never been introduced to a keyboard, you’re starting with a blank slate. This is great because you don’t have to unteach any bad habits like wrong hand position or overcoming the “hunting and pecking” many students start with. On the other hand, that just means you’ll have a whole lot more to teach them so you’ll need to really stop and think about the best way to introduce important concepts to your student.
If your student has had intermittent instruction or has been sort of “making their way” without any formal instruction, you have a much different task ahead of you. No one knows your student better than those who are directly interacting with him/her so if you think you need to step back and try to start from the beginning, then that’s an option. You may determine that starting from the beginning (home row, basic keyboard orientation) will frustrate your student to the point that he/she shuts down. It may take a few days, it may take a couple of weeks, but you’ll find out where to start and move forward.
Part of establishing a baseline may be getting a typing speed and accuracy percentage, but where do you start with this? Do you start at a random lesson? Or do you have to start at the beginning? And how do you know what typing speed and accuracy goal you should set? These are all good questions and as much as I’d love to give a concrete answer, there just isn’t one.
If you Google “average typing speed by age” there are resources that will give you charts and graphs and even some statistical data. Although this is good information, you’ve still got to make a determination about a specific student. By the way, the average typing speed of an adult is around 40 WPM where men tend to be slightly faster than women by about 7 WPM.
Strategies for Establishing a Baseline and Starting Instruction
Here are some ideas on establishing a baseline and moving forward into instruction: