Earlier this summer, I participated in a summer camp and one of the duties I was assigned was to introduce pre-K and early elementary BVI students to computer keyboarding. As I am a high school teacher, I was not well versed in the products and techniques for teaching these young students so I did a bit of research. Although there are several reviews of BVI keyboarding software on the Paths to Technology blog, this post attempts to provide a sequenced, structured approach to using this software when teaching pre-K and early elementary students in a classroom group setting that presumably would take place in a computer lab.
Of course, as more experienced elementary teachers know, these students must be constantly monitored and encouraged to work and that is always a challenge, I have the highest respect for elementary teachers who do this as a matter of course, it takes a special patience to be an elementary school teacher, above and beyond the patience and determination it takes to teach in general.
Although there are many typing programs, most are not blind accessible but some could be accessible to blind children if a parent, teacher, or aide were to announce and guide the student. Some of these programs include: Keyseeker that is flash based but good for young children with interesting sounds, including animal etc. sounds. Editor's Note: Keyseeker is no longer available.
Alpha Munchies is another program that is interesting with captivating sounds but again not accessible unless an adult would guide the student.
These are just a couple of several programs that can be used for individual BVI instruction with adult supervision. However, for teaching groups of students as I was required to do, they were not practical.
For young students with little to no keyboard experience as an introduction to keyboarding, LearnKeys from the APH is of value. Learn Keys simply announces a key when pressed and provides a good introduction to the interaction between a keyboard and a screenreader, LearnKeys has its own built in screen reader so any screenreader resident on the computer should be turned off, otherwise audio conflicts will occur. LearnKeys did, more or less, lock the screen but I did find however, that LearnKeys can be circumvented by pressing the windows key, even inadvertently, so students could get into folders on the local hard drive and accidentally cause damage so intermittent supervision is necessary. LearnKeys is conducive to a group beginning class for a basic introduction to screenreaders that announce keys, helping students to understand where various keys are located.
Once a basic familiarity with the interaction between screenreaders and keyboards was achieved, we moved students to Talking Typer that begins a formal introduction to keyboarding beginning with the Home keys. It provides rote drills but, unfortunately, there is no quick shortcut to learning keyboarding and diligent practice is essential. Especially when dealing with younger students, rote drill, like medicine, is best administered in small doses and I found that a half hour, in 15 minute increments approaches the upper limits of young attention spans. However, group instruction is achievable with Talking Typer, albeit with constant group supervision.
For students that exhibit more motivation and advance quickly Typeability can be used. Typeability has been reviewed on several posts on this blog and is, in my opinion, the best software for teaching keyboarding to BVI students but students must be intellectually and developmentally capable of handling the more advanced Typeability tutelage.
Since a classroom full of talking screenreaders is annoying to everyone involved, LearnKeys and Talking Typer use can be supervised visually without the supervisor needing to hear the audio. Typeability, however, requires a more astute young student since its audio is much more verbose and entertaining and open use without headphones creates audio chaos.
An invaluable resource and guide I used for these early elementary summer school keyboarding classes was Carmen Willings’s excellent guide.