Our school has started to teach touch typing to some of the children who come to us for extra literacy. We’re finding that most of the children enjoy it, but there are a few children who seem to find it really difficult. Do you recommend teaching touch typing to all children with literacy problems?
Dave L, Special Needs teacher
Thanks for your query. It’s an interesting one because, in my view, virtually everyone would potentially benefit from learning to touch type. From the practical point of view it is obviously an extremely useful skill in this day and age. I learned to touch type over 30 years ago and it’s certainly been one of the most useful skills I have ever learned! I can type more or less as fast as I think, which is a fantastic advantage (particularly when writing newsletters!).
In addition, touch typing has major benefits for people with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia and dyspraxia. As well as enabling them to word process effectively and access spell checkers, thesauruses, etc, it is a fine motor activity which develops individual finger control and the neurological pathways involved in all aspects of learning. It also develops visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and spatial memory, particularly the working memory aspects needed to cope with several aspects of a task at the same time. And the final aspect but in many cases one of the most important aspects, is that learning to touch type develops a kinaesthetic memory for spellings in a way which doesn’t happen anything like as effectively when writing a word. See the feature on touch typing for further information.
However, the difficulty is that, paradoxically, the learners who would most benefit from touch typing from the neurological point of view are the very learners who find it the most difficult. In particular, learners with dyspraxia or real fine motor coordination difficulty will make very slow progress in the early stages and need a considerable amount of encouragement and support.
If they persevere, they will benefit hugely, but in reality there are many children who find it difficult to stick at something they find very difficult. And it’s hardly surprising, since they are probably struggling with most of the other things they are doing at school. The last thing they want (or need) is yet another thing to fail at.
When deciding which learners (of any age!) to teach touch typing to, it is important to assess attitude as well as learning needs. Tell them about the benefits that touch typing will give them, but make it clear that it is not an easy skill to acquire. Explain to all learners that learning to touch type is a long-term project. They shouldn’t expect to automatically go straight on from one lesson to the next. They may well need to repeat lessons several times before progressing.
Frustration occurs when learners zip quickly through the first 3 or 4 lessons without making sure that those keys have been genuinely consolidated. They manage the first few keys, but then it all comes grinding to a halt when they have more than a small number to cope with. Criteria for progressing should be that they can complete the lesson and the games with at least an 80% success rate without looking down at the keys at all.
This is where the motivation of your pupil is crucial. The key requirements for success are:
- Always use the correct fingers.
- Don’t look down.
- Be prepared to repeat lessons where necessary.
Success is only achievable if the learner genuinely understands why those key requirements are so important and is motivated enough to stick to them (even when you’re not looking!). In my experience, there are always some children who are not really prepared to put in the mental effort to ‘get it right’. They will take shortcuts by using ‘easier’ fingers and by looking at the keyboard. If you find that happening and you can’t get the learner to change their approach, there isn’t really much point in pursuing it.
So, in summary, I would say that you need to evaluate each pupil’s attitude through questioning/discussion and possibly trying the first few lessons. If you start teaching touch typing to a learner with real processing difficulties, then be prepared to give a huge amount of support in the early stages. Treat the touch typing lessons as a brilliant way of developing fine motor skill, visual and spatial memory, working memory, etc with the added bonus of developing a practical skill at the same time. That way, your (and your pupil’s) expectation of touch typing progress will be realistic and attainable.
I have been trying to teach my son to touch type, but both of us are getting really frustrated. He is just past his 7th birthday and has been diagnosed as dyslexic... We’re learning together and I’m really enjoying it, but he is finding it really frustrating that I’m getting on well and he’s struggling.
Thanks for your question. I’m sorry your son is struggling, but the reason is likely to be that he is too young to start touch-typing. There are a number of programmes which cater for younger children, but I never recommend starting to teach touch typing until at least 8 years of age. Physically, young children have smaller hands, of course, which can cause difficulties with actually reaching the keys. However, the main reason is that children below the age of 8 often don’t have sufficiently good fine motor skills, particularly those children with some kind of learning difficulty. They also find it difficult building a visual and spatial memory of the keyboard layout and coping with the working memory demands of touch typing (linking letter name with the correct key, remembering where the keys are, physically reaching and pressing the keys, sequencing, visuo-motor processing, etc).
Some children below 8 will cope with learning to touch type and there is nothing wrong with teaching touch typing in those cases, but the majority with learning difficulties will need much more reinforcement and practice to make any significant progress. The danger is then that touch typing becomes yet another ‘chore’, like all the other literacy tasks they may already be struggling with. They get discouraged when the process of learning to touch type is too protracted and too complex.
It is much better to wait until the child is a little older and start then. Also, make it clear to any child that learning to touch type is actually a long-term process. Make sure he knows that he will need to practice each lesson until it is really consolidated before he moves to the next lesson. I always tell children that ‘the slower they progress in the beginning, the faster they will progress later on.’
Regarding your own progress, that sounds great! I’m pleased that you’re enjoying Type to Learn. I have got several colleagues who have taught themselves to touch type using it! But I would advise in your circumstances that you do your touch typing lessons when your son is not around. Don’t let him become discouraged by seeing your rapid progress when he is struggling.
With your son, I would advise stopping touch typing for the moment and starting afresh (from the beginning) in 6-12 months’ time when his progress will be much quicker and more satisfying. Also, when you do start, try for 3-5 sessions of only about 15 minutes per week, particularly in the early stages. It’s better to stop when the child is still keen to continue, rather than wait until they’re getting tired. Touch typing takes a lot of concentration!