As a first grader just turning 7 years old, young Mr. A. was diagnosed with dyslexia and a co-condition which impairs muscle function. His doctor's clinical summary indicated that handwriting would likely be a life-long physical challenge. Indeed, his experiences in kindergarten had been nothing less than traumatic. So how well would the recommended Multisensory Structured Language Therapy work, with handwriting being such an integral part?
Keyboarding, or "typing," is a life-skill that can be a vital tool for those with dysgraphia. Keyboarding uses different mind-muscle pathways than handwriting, and can be an important element in a comprehensive Multisensory Structured Language reading & writing program. Practical daily sessions of 5-15 minutes can build skills that will enable students with dysgraphia to write successfully, even when a student is also receiving handwriting and/or reading instruction. Adding guided keyboarding instruction to a multisensory structured language curriculum has long term practical value. Compatible with Multisensory Structured Language Therapy, is the highly recommended KEYBOARDING SKILLS by Diana Hanbury King.
When a child has completed 2nd/3rd grade and has dysfluent handwriting, learning "touch" keyboarding skills can dramatically improve academic development. Students with a physical impairment which limits handwriting, with guidance, can often successfully learn "touch typing" skills as young as first or second grade. While many schools will include accommodations to allow the use of keyboarding or technology in general, they usually willnot provide the careful instruction that is required to enable the student to become proficient; in those cases the accommodation can actually create another field of failure.
When scheduled daily M-F, it will get done most of the time, which builds skills rapidly and enables mastery.
What does effective keyboarding instruction look like? For one thing, it begins after students have an automatic accurate response for the sound-symbol relationships of the basic alphabet. So when to start is a judgement call by an experienced dyslexia specialist.
1. For the first lesson, color coding the home keys (translucent color tape) and the related "reach" keys is helpful for motor planning. Since the goal is for students to learn to type without looking at the keys, color coding is just part of the orientation step, a cognitive support during initial muscle mapping.
2. Teach stable body position (feet flat on floor, back against seat, table surface at height that allows elbows about a 90 degree angle).
3. Minimize visual clutter: if using an online program, eliminate advertisements and "busy" backgrounds and sounds. Likewise, minimize the visual input around the the physical workspace including the student's line-of-vision.
4. Coach the student as to which finger to use. And during the early phase, have the student say the letter they are going to type.
5. THIS IS KEY: Teaching keyboarding skills to a young student requires a greater level of adult engagement. Whether you use an online typing program, or a teacher-guide such as Diana King'sKeybording Skills:
Position yourself next to the student, with your finger on the backup/delete key.
When an error is made, back the cursor up so the student can practice the correct reach,
THEN BACK UP AGAIN, 3 TIMES, SO THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO PRACTICE THAT REACH PATTERN CORRECTLY SEVERAL TIMES before continuing.
6. As skill develops within one reach pattern, provide a cover for the student's hands to foster the mind-muscle connection. The best arrangement has been to simply scotch tape the center edge of a piece of paper towel, to the bottom of the computer screen to hold the cover in place without getting in the way. Then continue to support practicing "to automatic accuracy" before moving on to new key patterns.
7. Keep the instructional time short, about 5-10 minutes at the beginning. The primary goal is automatic accurate response (speed will come with time). Daily guided practice creates reliable skills.
8. When skills are in place, there is a natural transition to applying the skill in a way that integrates well into MSLT: writing words, then writing sentences, then paragraphs on topic.
What kind of equipment works best?
I selected an iPad as the platform for the keyboarding instruction: easily transported to any work location. During the period of skills development,avoid a keyboard that has a mouse pad below the keyboard between the thumbs.
After research, I had my young student try several keyboards which were well suited to small hands (QWERTY with minimal function keys, and minimal reach).
Although Microsoft had a comfortable angled keyboard, it was not reliable working with an iPad. Technology changes quickly, so make sure you can return equipment if after trying it out, it is not right for your purpose.
I used the Logitech "iPad Mini" keyboard combined with the full size iPad at first, with the 7 year old student. After several months, I transitioned him to Logitech's regular size iPad keyboard. [The central mouse pad on most laptops is in the way, and the standard size desk-top keypad is far too big with many unnecessary keys].
You'll want to do your own research, and PCMag.com is a good place to begin. As you look at hardware reviews for equipment, note the date of the review and the source. Look for current information by a user; beware of paid promotional pseudo-reviews. On 5-point scales, look to 3-4 star reviews for realistic pros and cons. Check the return policy, it is often worth paying a bit more with the option of an easy, fee-free return policy. In that way you can be sure you get the equipment that a will work best for your student.
Young Mr. A has a physical condition that impacts physical stability and endurance. Thanks to daily, one-to-one Multisensory Structured Language Therapy year-round for 26 months he now reads above grade level, and has strong handwriting and keyboarding skills. He is a very happy and confident student, with a strong foundation of written language skills that will last a lifetime!
Writing: the act
of forming visible letters or characters.
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Often schools will write accommodations to allow the use of keyboarding, or technology in general, but very often will not commit to careful instruction that will enable the student to become proficient.
physically based impairment of the ability to produce written language andwhich seriously impairs academic progress. For many, keyboarding is key to independent expression, and academic success.
Successful in producing a desired or intended result.
OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY
An alternative or complement to online programs, Diana Hanbury King's guided KEYBOARDING SKILLS builds skills steadily from home-key "reach and return," single syllable words with high frequency rimes and blends, to multisyllable words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs. 49 pages, flip-top spiral bound, with built-in table stand.
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NOTE: Dyspraxia, a neruo-motor disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination, can impair both handwriting and keyboarding skills. Dyspraxia can be a primary cause of dysgraphia. Find out more from the Dyspraxia Foundation.