In every school there are some 10% who need accommodations for public exams. These include extra time, supervised rest breaks, a reader and a scribe or a word processor.
The cost to schools is high. Children with a scribe or reader need a separate room and invigilator. Using technology, as they do for exams in many countries, means all candidates can be in a room together and this reduces staffing costs.
‘The two big themes of the last 12 months have been digital learning and catch up,’ said Keene Braganza, CEO of KAZ Type, an award-winning touch typing program, ‘ but ironically we are hearing stories of schools who will be devoting funding to improving handwriting.’
This seems an odd choice as the last year has highlighted the need for digital skills and most schools are now using learning platforms and online resources to keep track of homework.
Schools adopting touch typing
Touch typing is not on the curriculum of most state schools but increasingly it is a popular option in the private sector. It made headlines after parents at the fee-paying schools Eton and Brighton College insisted typing was brought back onto the timetable. They claimed it was an essential asset in today’s jobs’ market. Now other schools are encouraging young people ‘to type properly’.
Aysgarth is a respected traditional boys’ prep school in North Yorkshire. Tom Vivian, head of IT, has introduced touch typing for the older boys and feels that this is a worthwhile investment of their time. He points out that much of their schoolwork is done via Google apps or Google Classroom and when the boys move on to senior school, they will be doing even more work on computer. Touch typing classes are an ideal solution for pupils with dyslexia and dyspraxia who are allowed to use a computer in exams because their handwriting is so poor. These boys need to improve their keyboard skills as quickly as possible and have used the KAZ Dyslexia version.
Touch typing and dyslexia
Touch typing doesn’t just make written answers more legible, it has been shown to improve candidates’ performance. ‘Most children stay at the ‘hunt and peck’ stage of typing,’ said Keene Braganza. ‘This is the worst of all worlds as they need to think what to say and then using two fingers, to get the words down on the page. It encourages their brain to work at a letter and word level whereas exams need them to be working at sentence level as a minimum and to focus on formulating arguments, gathering and presenting evidence and ideas. Hunt and peck is also very tiring as every word requires a conscious effort.’
Touch typing improves spelling because it gives children an alternative to ‘look- cover- write and check’ which does not work well as a strategy for children with dyslexia who may struggle with working memory. Children learn the patterns on the keyboard when they touch type and spelling of most common words becomes automatic. This is why some schools are using Catch Up funding for touch typing and choosing the KAZ course which teaches children the basics in just 90 minutes. They can also enter for the City and Guilds digital badge.
Reading Blue Coat are piloting KAZ with year 9 as they feel that students with weak handwriting need to be confident touch typists by the end of year 10 when they will be sitting their first GCSE. They run an after-school club and has found this has worked well because the students are working independently, making good progress and just need a member of staff to oversee and monitor the work. They are now planning to open it up to boys in the Lower School.
KAZ and lockdown
The closure of schools and the move to online learning showed just how important digital skills are. Jo Knight took out a group licence in lockdown. She is deputy SENCO at Oakwood School, a secondary in Surrey with 1300 pupils. Children use laptops or Chrome Books and she noticed that some were struggling to type quickly and felt that this would hold them back in the future.
‘Speech to text looked promising but it hasn’t really taken off. Children feel pressurised if they have to cast their thoughts into words and dictate them. They also get self-conscious it they think others are listening. However, we know that touch typing is a winner for children with dyslexia. There is so much research that shows that it develops the muscle memory for letter strings and word patterns and so improves spelling. It also deals with the issue of poor handwriting because with a typed script, these learners can present their ideas as legibly as anyone else.’
Research by Pitman Training shows that people who type with two fingers manage between 27 and 37 words a minute while someone trained to touch type can reach between 50 and 70 words a minute. These days university students will often be required to produce 2,000-word essays and dissertations of 10,000 words or more so touch typing certainly pays off.
Jo sees more immediate advantages: not only will they be able to take more control of their exam answers, but they are likely to get better grades. The JCQ rubric states:
If a word processor (with the spelling and grammar check disabled) is the candidate’s normal way of working within the centre, then it should be used in examinations in order to encourage independent working and access to marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar (see section 5.8).
A scribe must only be used where a candidate is not sufficiently competent or confident in using a word processor with the spelling and grammar check or
predictive text facility disabled (switched off).
Many exams depend on the quality of written communication which includes the skills of spelling, punctuation and grammar. Candidates can only be awarded marks for this if they can demonstrate that they have written the answers themselves or dictated the spellings so once again touch typing is an advantage.
Once children leave school they will rarely handwrite so it makes sense to ensure that they have the necessary skills to make the best use of technology for work and for further study.