Friday, 10 February 2012

ICT in education

This is only my third blog and I am learning all the time.  On my second blog I managed to change the settings and set up some labels, sometimes known as tags on internet material so that keywords are picked up in the search engines.

I am prompted to write on the subject of ICT and its important place in education as, when performing a simple search for my own blog, I landed on Diane Brooks' blog (Di's Blog) .  Diane has taught in primary schools and now teaches ICT in a  New Zealand university.  At the moment I don't seem to be able to comment on her article but when I have learnt a little more about I shall indeed be agreeing with her views on how the teaching of technology in schools is not really serving our children's needs in later schooling, GCSE essays, A Level projects and in Higher Education.  More about this later but here is how it all started for me.

Preferring a future with my boyfriend to the pursuit of A Levels and Teacher Training College, I persuaded my mother to let me leave school after only five weeks in the sixth form but, on her insistence, I was enrolled quickly on a Secretarial Course at St Albans College of Further Education.  Amazingly, this is now part of a nearby university and I sometimes wonder what happened to the excellent courses there.  We studied Monday to Friday, 9-5 with one evening finishing after 9pm.  There was much to learn, such as shorthand, typewriting, Law, Accounts, Commerce, Secretarial Duties and Office Practice and those who had no O Level English were steered firmly in the right direction.  We all left at 17+ literate and numerate and yet we were considered the 'drop outs' - those who were not staying on for A Levels and University.  Imagine that these days.  My fondest memory has to be Friday afternoons and typing to music - drills which have stood me in good stead.  Sadly, drilling and rote learning has been considered inappropriate over recent years but I can testify to its results.  After one year I was typing at 60 words per minute and writing shorthand at 130 wpm.  My wonderful FE teacher Enid Lyall told me that I didn't need to forget a career in teaching as, if I did well in the secretarial exams, I could go on to teach those subjects.  I never forgot her words and, as soon as I had achieved my desire for three babies, I enrolled at Mid Herts College in Welwyn Garden City (now part of another university no doubt) on a Teachers' Certificate in Typewriting Course.  Within a few years I had teaching experience and another Teachers' Certificate, this time in Office Practice.

I have my mother to thank for the skills I learnt at St Albans and my subsequent teaching career.  Once my youngest daughter was at school, I taught Secretarial and Business Administration subjects in a college of Further Education, now Uxbridge College for 19 years.  All students on our courses undertook an intensive Sight and Sound keyboarding program on a daily basis for two weeks.  The keyboarding was then reinforced and developed through daily Typewriting classes, drills from the board and textbook exercises until all demonstrated automaticity in touch typing.  Few students had learnt this skill before, although they would often insist they had 'done' typing at school despite hammering the keyboard with clenched fists and two finger attack.  Once we had reformed the bad habits, we saw our role as extending the breadth of the student's knowledge of English - use of a dictionary was mandatory in my classes, something recalled by an ex-student of mine when we met years later.  Nowhere was this more essential than in audio-typewriting classes where homophone misuse such as hear/here was common.  Of course, eventually, students learnt word processing and the courses began to include spreadsheets and databases.  No doubt they now include social media and hopefully learn the pitfalls as well as the plusses of this use of technology.

For the past eighteen years I have been teaching dyslexic students in Further and Higher Education and also some private pupils from primary and secondary schools both in Middlesex and then here in Dorset after I moved eleven years ago.  I have stressed to both students and parents the need for good keyboarding/touch typing skills.  I am firmly convinced that this is a basic skill which should be taught as pedantically as Literacy and Numeracy.  Playing with the mouse and getting pretty pictures on the screen is just not enough for any pupil.  However, students with dyslexia have difficulty learning, reading, writing and remembering, so, if the skill is acquired early on, it can help with writing essays, coursework, projects and research.  It is one less thing to worry about and no student will ever say they regretted the time it took to acquire the skill.

Essential for the student with dyslexia (try googling 'dyslexia,uk' for more information) is a laptop for their use and their use only.  It is possible to get free assistive technology such as mindmapping programs and voice recognition programs which adapt to the student's own voice - hence the reason they should have their own computer.  There will be more on assistive software in a later post.

For now, there are also free fun touch typing programs such as dance mat  This program will record the pupil's progress so that they can work for a set time each day or, say 4-5 times a week.  Each time they log on, the program remembers the stage they were at.  The animations are great for primary schoolchildren.  Even teenagers will love it.  There is also a good touch typing program available on the internet for free download at  My own favourite and much loved by my grandchildren was one called Type Faster, available at .  This program does not have the animation that Dance Mat has, but I tested this on a seven year old and a four year old and both demonstrated good concentration and the motivation to 'type like Nanny'.  If this post is ringing bells for you, you need to learn the skill first yourself and be a role model for your dyslexic or non-dyslexic child/teenager.

Accurate touch typing skills are not only needed by dyslexic children and teenagers, they should be learnt by ALL children well before they need the skill for written work.  Only then can they concentrate on the quality of their writing.  If spelling is an issue, they can be encouraged to right click on the 'wiggly red line' to find the correct word.  If the difficulties are serious they should be encouraged to use a voice recognition program for homework and then learn some basic editing skills.  More of this later too.

Meanwhile,  parents, find out if your children are learning to touch type and use a keyboard efficiently.  Do they know that in WORD, Shift F7 is the thesaurus and they can experiment with 'better' words to explain what they want to say?  In Higher Education my experience was such that I never met a student who knew how to use the thesaurus in Word.  I demonstrated it once and they never forgot it so I had to wonder what they had done at school.

If you are a teacher reading this, what is happening in your school?  I would love to hear from you.

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