When Typing Is an Essential Communication Skill

By Dr. Wendy Thompson

In many classrooms, typing instruction is an opportunity for students to practice and improve an important skill. In my classroom, it’s part crucial component in helping my students communicate and part assistive technology.

I teach students aged 10–14 years at the A. Harry Moore School. All of our students have individual education plans (IEPs) owing to some kind of disability and come to us through referral by a local school district after its child study team determines that our school would be the least restrictive environment in which they can receive an appropriate education.

I have six students in my class this year, and each one has a recommendation that they work on developing their typing skills, because they struggle with fine motor skills and sensory integration. Handwriting will likely never be a functional skill for many of them.

We began using TypeTastic after I stumbled upon it at the ISTE conference. I knew it was going to be a great tool to help them learn to type, but it’s helped them in so many other ways, as well.

Since each of my students has different academic abilities, they have individual goals, too. Some are improving their letter-recognition skills as they work on their keyboarding. Others are working on being able to type out their own name, and some are working on writing paragraphs. Many of them are non-verbal, and learning to type offers them a more age-appropriate way to communicate than using pictures does.

Since all of my students except one have a disability that prevents them from typing with two hands, they’re also developing their problem-solving skills. They are very motivated to reach the next level of TypeTastic, so we’ll often have conversations about how they might achieve that using a single hand. Perhaps they’ll use an adaptive keyboard, or maybe they’ll decide to use an extended stick in their mouth to push the shift key while they type with their hand. However they solve the problem, they’re practicing adapting to a world that isn’t always set up for people facing their particular challenges. This is an incredibly important skill for these students in every aspect of their personal, academic, and professional lives.

Keyboarding is an important skill for all students to master in the modern world, but in my classroom, it’s often a vitally important connection between my students and the world around them.

Dr. Wendy Thompson is a middle school teacher at the A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City, NJ.

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