Using a computer keyboard is a regular thing for almost everyone these days – school, homework, professional or personal use. Pressing keys on a keyboard while looking down to find the letters is about as efficient as writing with a feather and a pot of ink – painfully slow. Modern pens replaced quills a long time ago, but here in the UK we still lag behind the rest of the world in appreciating the importance of touch typing. Even though most schools are falling over themselves to squeeze computer coding into the timetable, they still fail to appreciate that to be successful you need to be able to touch type. You can’t look away from the screen in the middle of complex code to find the keys you want to type. Successful coders know the importance of touch typing!
I regularly speak to teachers & Senco’s, Dyslexia assessors, Educational Psychologists, Occupational Therapists. Many recommend touch typing as important, but few explain what it really means. The critical factor is changing how the brain processes the skill of typing. It’s not about being a bit faster on the keyboard because you’re a bit more familiar with the layout. Typing by touch means the unconscious brain is in control. It is a physical skill, like playing a musical instrument or a sport, your unconscious takes care of the process while your conscious brain is focussed only on what it wants to say. This part of the brain is very fast, very powerful and generally not involved with language unless typing is pushed into this area; if you don’t learn to type without looking down, you will stay an “electro-chicken”, pecking at the keyboard while your conscious brain tries to multi-task between keyboard, screen, what to say, how to find the letters and how to spell the words. The unconscious brain can do all that and in fractions of a second – typing at +70wpm is a lot of letters!
If your child has Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, ASD or other SEN that mean they struggle to write with a pen, it’s so important to get them touch typing. It’s exam season, and many pupils are battling with trying to express themselves with a pen or possibly a scribe – dictating to a scribe is often far from normal for most people. To get your child access to a laptop for exams, you have to demonstrate it is their “normal way of working” – that’s all. This translates to two things: first, get them touch typing, a child who can type at +30 words per minute is inarguably most efficient & effective on a keyboard. Second, support from the school to use a laptop in normal, everyday work in the classroom and for homework – demonstrating “normal way of working”.
Learning to type happens in 3 stages:
- Conscious memorisation of fingers and letters (and colours when using Englishtype)
- Conscious learning of the finger movement required to type each letter
- Unconscious physical skill – with enough practice and the right activities, steps one and two move from needing conscious thought to being unconscious – like playing a sport, musical instrument or riding a bike
It is critical to get to stage 3 and transfer the skill of touch typing into the unconscious brain; learners can put in a lot of time and effort but if they remain at the conscious typing stage (often 20-25 words per minute) almost everyone reverts back to looking. The skill transitions into the unconscious at about 30 words per minute; for a child, it’s not possible to type that fast if you’re still looking and thinking about where to move fingers. It’s a fluid process and eyes are locked on the screen. At 20wpm, you can actually see learners thinking while they work out which finger to move where. So don’t give up – you have to make the leap to unconscious, or you will have wasted all the time you spent learning.