Strategies for Teaching Touch Typing to Students with Visual Impairments

In a previous article, I shared five resources for teaching touch typing to students with visual impairments.  In this follow-up piece, I’m going to share five important tips, tricks, and strategies for teaching touch typing.  This is, by no means, an all-inclusive list.  But it is a place to start. 

Posture and Positioning

The importance of having good posture when typing cannot be emphasised enough.  It is especially important to monitor posture and positioning in younger students, who are constantly growing and may need to have the height of their tables and chairs checked a few times a year or more.  It is only logical that the earlier habits of posture and positioning are introduced, the easier it will be for students to implement them throughout their lives.

Not only is proper posture and positioning important to prevent wear and tear over time, but it will also help students feel as comfortable as possible when typing.  And let’s be honest...sitting in one place and typing is hard enough without feeling discomfort. 

Doctors and occupational therapists agree that correct posture when doing word processing tasks will prevent future back, neck, and hand issues. Below are some sources for evaluating and adjusting workspaces to incorporate correct posture and positioning.  

  1. Proper Sitting Posture for Typing - WebMD
  2. Office Ergonomics: Your How-To Guide
  3. Keyboarding Modifications to Help Kids with Typing - Mama OT (contains excellent resources for other OT related articles and checklists related to typing modifications for students)

Realistic Time Limitations

Students are learning to touch type at an earlier age in today’s technological environment.  Sometimes typing classes start as early as first grade. 

And let’s be honest, learning to touch type can be pretty boring.  Pair that with the fact that the attention spans of most younger children are somewhat limited and you can understand why it is so frustrating for the students.  

After doing a bit of research, I’ve found varying opinions about how much time each typing session should last, but most do agree that starting out small and allowing for breaks decreases the student’s anxiety and the likelihood that they will reach their frustration point.  

For these reasons, I usually recommend that typing lessons start out at 5-10 minutes and increase by a few minutes per week.  This helps students get accustomed to sitting in one place in a given position and to using their fingers in ways that the are not used to.  Often setting a timer and providing visual and auditory feedback about how much time is left keeps the students on task.

For elementary aged students, I generally don’t like to let them type beyond 20 minutes without at least a 5 minute break to walk around and stretch or to at least engage in another activity.  For middle school and older students, I increase that limit to 30 minutes before a break. 

Proper Keyboard Orientation

It’s super tempting to plop a student in front of a keyboard with a typing program and tell them to “have at it”, but it certainly is not best practice!

Orienting a student to the keyboard he or she will be using is very important.  After all, teaching hand positioning on the home row is a major first step to learning to use all of the keys on the keyboard.  If that is not learned correctly within the first few lessons, the student will not be able to progress and reach frustration point rather quickly.

Also, though many keyboarding programs and instruction tools provide verbal instruction about hand positioning, ensuring that students are able to correctly follow the instructions is curcial.  

Additionally, as typing is taught, it is also important that students learn where the other major keys on the keyboard are located.  If they are screen reader users or you are otherwise hoping to decrease dependence on the mouse, it is even more important for the students to be able to locate and use alt, control, insert, tab, and other keys that allow keyboard control of the operating system, screen reader/magnifier, and other programs.  

No Cheat Options

Let’s face it...ever since we were children, we were warned against peeking.  And what did that do?  Pretty much nothing...except in some cases where it actually had the opposite effect, but I digress…

There are a lot of options to discourage peeking at the keyboard. Most of these are low-tech solutions and inexpensive.  

  1. A Blacked-Out Keyboard - It’s really difficult to peek when there is nothing to peek at.  You can have one or more keyboards whose keys are painted black or purchase Speed Skins that can be easily placed over keys and removed when needed.  Regardless, your students won’t be able to see the keys.
  2. Turning off all classroom lights (including the monitor) - Yes, this might be somewhat inconvenient for others in the room, but it is a very easy on-the-fly- way to make sure that your student cannot look at the keyboard.  Note that this will only really work well if you are using a self-voicing keyboarding program.  If you cannot turn off the monitor and speakers independently of one another, your student can use headphones or use a small external speaker.  
  3. A barrier between the student and the keyboard - There are several products on the market such as No Peek Keyboard Covers or these Computer Keyboard Covers.  But let’s be honest, you can just as easily make a similar item out of a cardboard box (or even out of wood if you’re inclined in that direction).  

Mix it Up!

As we’ve already established, straight keyboarding is BORING!  So mixing up your instructional methods is key (pun intended).  Here are a few ways to shake things up a bit:

  1. Encourage students to come with homework: Providing some time for students to work on typing up simple assignments during keyboarding time reinforces that learning to touch type isn’t just something you are doing as a form of torture, it has a purpose.  Assignments should not be lengthy, especially the first few times.  Examples may include answering a few questions in a science book, a journal entry, or simple class reflection or exit ticket. 
  2. Take breaks to learn about how the computer works: Make sure to spend some time teaching students how to use the computer functionally.  Learning to open Word documents, navigate to a webpage, or perform other tasks are things students both need to know and will appreciate learning.  Approaching it like a “secret code” to using a computer is often helpful for younger kids...especially if students can show peers that they can perform tasks peers cannot without the aid of a mouse (such as open a program, get to the desktop, etc).  
  3. Keep records: That’s a no-brainer since many students have IEP goals centering on improving typing speed.  But challenging students to constantly improve their WMP and accuracy can be tricky.  Creating charts or graphs in Excel to show them how much they’ve progressed is a great way to motivate some students.  Granted, some students won’t care, but it’s always worth a shot. 

Do you have some favorite strategies to share?  A tip or trick you think would be helpful?  Please share in the comments section!

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