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OTSH 75: Journal Club: Free vs. Paid Typing Programs







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Welcome to the show notes for Episode 75 of the OT School House Podcast.


In this episode of the OT School House Podcast, Jayson gets real while breaking down a 2018 article outlining a specific typing program and its effectiveness versus a free typing program. In this discussion, we will look at various typing methods, the lack of available norms for typing speed, Motor Learning Theory and Keyboarding, and how a premium paid program compares to a free program. Listen in to hear why the research is still not great when it comes to typing. Article Citation:

  • Denise K. Donica, Peter Giroux & Amber Faust (2018) Keyboarding instruction: Comparison of techniques for improved keyboarding skills in elementary students, Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 11:4, 396-410, DOI: 10.1080/19411243.2018.1512067


Episode Transcript

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OTSH_75 - Free vs. Paid Typing Programs
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Amazing Narrator

Hello and welcome to the OT School House podcast, your source for school-based occupational therapy tips, interviews, and professional development. Now to get the conversation started, here is your host, Jayson Davies. Class is officially in session.


Jayson Davies

Hey there, welcome back for Episode Number 75 of the OT School House podcast. You know, actually, as I say that I have to apologize, I think last week was Episode 74. And for some reason, I said Episode 73 in the intro, so I'm sorry about that. But we are officially on episode 75. My name is Jayson Davies. Thank you so much for being here today, and I'm looking forward to this episode. Now, this is a journal club discussion podcast. And well, what we do in these Journal Club podcast is we look at a journal article based upon some concerns that I've been receiving comments about. So recently, I've been getting a lot of comments and questions about typing. And when I say that, I mean, questions about what are some of the norms for typing, you know, what, at what speed? or How should a third-grader be using a keyboard? What should they be doing? Also, when is it time to switch from handwriting to keyboarding? Those are the two main questions norms related to speed, and when is the time to switch. Also, do OTs even address keyboarding? That's another one that I get. So today, we're going to go through a journal article and address some of those questions about keyboarding.


Let's go ahead and get started. Today, the article that we're looking at is titled "Keyboarding instruction: Comparison of techniques for improved keyboarding skills in elementary students". This article comes from the Journal of Occupational Therapy, School and Early Intervention, and it was published in 2018. The actual study took place in the fall of 2016, to the spring of 2017. The authors of this article are Denise Donica, Peter Giroux, and Amber Faust. And like I mentioned, it does come from the Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, and Early Intervention.


Now real quick, before we get into the background of this article, I just want to point out that not every article is perfect. But, that doesn't mean that we can't learn from it. So a little bit later, I'm going to share with you some of the pitfalls I think about this article. But again, that doesn't mean that there's not something that we can't take away from this article. I actually think that the background that we're about to talk about is really strong, and provides a lot of great information for us. So, let's go ahead and do that. And then I'll tell you a little bit about what I didn't like so much about this article as we get later on. So as I mentioned earlier, this article does come to us from 2018. And the actual research itself was conducted in 2016 and 2017.


So this isn't going to be research that we can really say, is a result of the pandemic, things have changed, especially with typing as a result of the pandemic. But I think the authors would agree that typing has only become even more important, as a result of the last 14 or so months, with everything going all online. Thankfully, things are starting to open back up now. But we know that technology has changed, and school has changed forever when it comes to the use of technology. So, I think the researchers would agree that this is such an important topic, both in 2018, and even more so now. To start off with something that I really appreciated within this article is just some of the terminology. The authors pointed out that students who have difficulty with typing may face challenges meeting their student occupational demands. And I don't know about you, but I really like that little phrase right there, student occupational demands. I think it's something that all of us as school-based occupational therapists should actually use more frequently. I think it will help to share with others, teachers, as well as parents and administrators, exactly what our job is. We are not fine motor, or handwriting, or visual-motor specialists.


While we do look at those areas, we are really looking at the student's occupational demands every day. That's what we're focusing on. That's what we're trying to improve on and make the student more independent. So student occupational demands, I think that's a great terminology are a great term to add to your dictionary. And when it comes to student occupational demands and technology, there are three areas that the researchers identified that students really have to use technology nowadays. Those three demands that are now regularly presenting themselves for students, include reading and accessing digital textbooks, partaking in computer-based testing, and also simply just completing online or word-based activities. That can be anything from playing an academic game on the computer to maybe writing a three-page essay on a Word document that can also be putting together a PowerPoint show for you to present in class.


Each of those is an example of assignments that happen more and more on the computer these days, as opposed to maybe even a few years ago. And that then leads to the next point that they make in the background review of this article, and that is that just about like everything, the earlier you start, the better. And so the earlier that you introduced touch keyboarding instruction, the better because they find that it does allow for higher-level keyboarding, as the student gets older. No surprise there, right, the earlier you start something, hopefully, the better you will be in the long term. Now, one thing that I was really hoping to get from this article were some established norms as to when kids should start typing, maybe what speeds that they should be typing out, what age and you know what, it just isn't out there yet. The authors note that there is no real standardized assessment to measure words per minute and that over the years studies have found varied results, partially because there isn't a standardized way to measure this. For example, one study found that students' grades first to third, average nine words per minute, while another study found that second graders average five words per minute. I mean, yeah, that's only four words per minute, but that's a 50%, actually, almost 100% increase from five to nine, right?


Furthermore, a third study found that third-graders type up to 30 words per minute. That's a huge difference. That's like a 300% increase from the nine words per minute. So it's just very up in the air right now, as far as what is a norm for a student to be typing. It's also not known when a student should be using touch typing, versus a one-finger hunt and peck method. However, one thing has been pretty consistent as far as what the research has shown. And that is that, in order for a kid to actually use typing effectively, they need to be introduced to typing prior to the grade level where the computers are expected to be used for that academic work. And I think that is pretty common sense. But you never know that we need to actually teach someone how to use something before we expect them to actually use it to complete a project. So yeah, you know, for a lot of OTs out there, you're listening to this, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, this is the same thing with handwriting, right?" We expect them to come into kindergarten expecting them to know how to write their name, and to write all their letters, but no one's ever shown them how to, you know, use a pencil to draw some simple shapes, let alone show them how to form letter A. I think that that has simply frustrated many OTs and teachers alike. Speaking of frustration, let's go ahead and dive into what the Common Core State Standards say. Yeah, I went there. Just kidding. But Alright, so Common Core State Standards.


It isn't until about the third grade, that students are actually expected to do typing and produce published writing with technology. That's when you first see typing or keyboarding, within the Common Core State Standards. However, once you get to the fourth grade, it does state that a fourth grader should publish one page in a single sitting as a fourth-grader, and two pages in a single sitting as a fifth-grader. That's quite a bit of writing. I mean, especially if you haven't been taught how to touch type, and you're trying to search for letters as you write. I don't know exactly how many characters are on a single page, maybe if I highlight my document that I'm looking at right now, I can figure that out. But it's hundreds. So that's a lot of looking around a keyboard trying to find the right character that you need and the punctuation and whatnot. So if you're not touched typing, or even at least familiar with a keyboard, that can be tricky, and can probably also be a little overwhelming, I would imagine. And that then brings us back to the different ways of how students actually type. The researchers pointed out five main methods.


The first method is the traditional one finger, on one hand, hunt and peck method. This is the most immature model of actually typing. The second method is one finger on each hand to hunt and peck. And of course, here you are still heavily relying on your vision. The third model is moving up to two to four fingers on each hand while looking at the keyboard. The fourth method is using all of your fingers but still looking for the letters, kind of relying at least on visual feedback. Maybe you're not looking consistently at the keyboard, but you're still relying on the visual feedback. The fifth model, which is the most advanced, most mature method of typing, is what we widely know as true touch typing, where the typer uses all the fingers on both hands without visual feedback and instead is relying on kinesthetic feedback.


The author then takes a moment to actually share a little bit about motor learning theory and how that feeds into the ability to type and they talk about the different processes of cognitive, associative, and autonomous stages to get to touch typing. Cognitive stage number one is that it takes a lot of that executive functioning to plan out what key you're going to hit, using your vision to figure that out. And starting simple by just hunting and pecking, then you start to move to that associative stage where you're relying on your vision a little bit less, maybe you now you're using two to four fingers. And you're not quite always looking at the keyboard, but your stuff to look at the keyboard. And eventually, you get to that autonomous stage where you are able to just, you know, get that kinesthetic feedback, and really start to quicken up your typing and also become more accurate. Alright, so that's going to go ahead and wrap up the background review that they discussed in this article. And now we're going to move forward a little bit to the actual goals or the hypothesis that they had with that article. And here the researchers thought to discover if the learning without tears typing program would be more efficient than a free alternative online program that is commonly used, specifically the free online program that the school that they were at, we’re actually using.


We'll talk a little bit about the population in just a moment. But for the goals, you just got to know they wanted to compare the learning without tears typing program to the free alternatives online. They also wanted to be able to determine if there was a relationship between the number of activities completed on the keyboarding without tears application, and the overall keyboarding speed and accuracy. So basically, they wanted to determine that if a student completed five activities of the keyboarding without tears program, would that then correlate to a one-word or two-word improvement in their word-per-minute score. So then who were the participants in this study, the study looked at Southern suburban elementary schools with grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Combined, there were a total of about 1900 kids, I believe it was 1908. About 45%, and a 55%, split between who was in the control group versus who was in the intervention group of the learning without tears.


Now, I know many occupational therapists, those who work in special education, they want to know what our special education students included in that group. And they were for the most part unless they were in a self-contained class. So if they were a kid who received RSP services or something like that, then yes, they were included. And they did participate in both the learning as well as the pre and post-test. If they were in a self-contained class, then no, they did not participate in the study. Like isn't mentioned earlier, this took place in the 2016-2017 school year, it was most of the school year, they started in August to September with that pretest. And then they had the same post-test later that school year in the month of May. And speaking of that pretest and post-test, they used a website called typingtestpro.com in order to collect that baseline and then compare the baseline scores later. In that same academic year, what they use were two, one-minute timed tests, and one two-minute time test.


The two one-minute time tests, we’re actually at a first-grade reading level. And then the two-minute time test was at a fourth-grade reading level. Now, this is the first thing that I wasn't too thrilled about because they tested kids from kindergarten all the way up to fifth grade using the same exact test. And so for those poor kindergarteners, and they admitted this later, and the limitations that, you know, maybe they should have done something else for the kindergarteners at least because they didn't even know what letters were some of them at the beginning of the school year. And yet they were asked to basically copy a paragraph that was written for first and fourth graders. So that was a big struggle for them. Likewise, on this testing, they actually disabled the backspace button. And I don't know about you, but if I was a kid learning to type, I'd be a pretty frustrated kid, if I couldn't use that backspace button.


For those kids who get really anxious about not being a perfectionist. In fact, for most kids in general, they want they just want to be able to use that backspace button. That's what they've been taught, and they couldn't use it. And so they did do this test again, once at the beginning of the school year, and then once at the end of the school year for all the kids involved. Alright, so let's go ahead and jump into the interventions that were used. This is where it gets a little interesting. This was a quasi-experimental pretest-posttest design, meaning that there were two separate cohorts, the intervention cohort, and the control cohort. These cohorts only did one of the two interventions. One was given the keyboarding without tears intervention, the other use the free typing programs that had been used by the teachers the year before.


The teachers that were providing the keyboarding without tears program received five hours of training in that program. The other teachers received no training and keyboarding, in addition to what they had already had previously. All of these interventions occurred within the computer lab at the school site, it wasn't exactly clear if there was a specific computer lab teacher that was in charge of providing the intervention, or if it was just the typical teacher that was providing that intervention. The authors did note that these students sped to anywhere between 45 and 60 minutes in the computer lab, but that not all of that time was spent on actually keyboarding practice. So it's unclear as to how much time each group actually did spend on practicing keyboarding.


The handwriting without tears program notes that it is supposed to be implemented up to 10 minutes a day, or up to about an hour per week. So we can assume that was what the intervention group the handwriting without tears group use, but we're not sure about the other group. What we do know about the other group, the non-keyboarding without tears group is that they use three specific websites, they used freetypinggame.net, learntyping.org, and PBSkids.org. Now, when I first tried to type in freetypinggame.net, I actually typed in freetypinggames with an s at the end .net. And well, let's just say Google Chrome, and my router blocked me because it was going to take me to a dangerous website. So I don't know what would happen if a kid accidentally typed in an S at the end, which I think actually makes sense because there's more than one game on this website. Anyways, just wanted to point that out. I also want to point out that if you have a moment, and you've never been to freetypinggame.net, go for it look at it, you're probably going to have the same feeling I have that teachers probably shouldn't be using this website. It is a very cluttered website, there's a lot going on on it, and even when you do actually click on like the "Learn to type", it is very outdated, their, their processing is just very poor. And I can see a kid getting lost on it.


The same thing happened when I went to learntyping.org it was just not a good website, period, not alone typing, it just was not a good website, period. And so I'm surprised that these are the websites that handwriting without tears learning without tears decided to go within the comparison group. PBS Kids is a more established website. It's a very popular website among educators, I believe, although it is not specifically a keyboarding website. Personally, I would have liked to see keyboarding without tears, compare their product to something more familiar to myself, and more familiar to the teachers that I know that work on typing. And that program would look more like typingclub.com or typing.com where the student can actually create an account, log in all for free and track their progress and go along with the flow. In fact, with those free websites, I know at least on one of the two, the teacher can create their own teacher account and actually have their students under them so that the teacher can track the progress that the student is making, as opposed to learning without tears using these three websites that are just really not that great. Now, I know this was done in 2016. But still, these programs have been around for a while. So I would have liked to see that. Likewise, it was noted that one of the schools was selected as the keyboarding without tears school based upon familiarity with the school by one of the researchers.


I just think that the school should have been randomly selected and randomly applied to either the control or the intervention group, as opposed to the convenient leap selected. Because one of the researchers was familiar with that school. It just doesn't seem right for an article that you're publishing for the world to see. Despite all of that, let's go ahead and talk about some of the results that came about. Personally, I'm not completely thrilled by the way that they expressed all the results. And so I won't go into all the details because I'm not a researcher. I'm not someone who went to school specifically to read articles. And I just don't think that the charts and the narrative that they put out there were the easiest to understand. But what the key takeaway from the researchers say they found was that in grades K through two, those students increase their ability to improve their keyboarding method, you know, from using maybe two fingers to hunt and peck using four fingers to hunt and peck significantly more than the students who were using the free program. That was in the K through two population and the third through the fifth population, they found that those students increase the rate of typing, more so than the students in the free programs. That was the key takeaway the younger kids got better at the actual methodology of typing using their hands and improving the touch typing, or maybe not getting all the way to touch typing, but using more fingers understanding the keyboard a little bit better.


While the older students improved their fluency per se, they were able to type longer and faster. Surprisingly, the older kids in grades three through five that were not doing the learning without tears program actually improved their typing methodology more than the other kids that were in the learning without tears program. Again, the typing methodology meaning how they actually typed from touch typing to the hunt, and peck method. All in all the authors came to the conclusion that this study indicates the importance of using a developmentally based comprehensive curriculum for keyboarding, such as the keyboarding without tears curriculum to improve student's typing and both general education and special education.


The research also was noted to support that student's keyboarding skills improve with the exposure to keyboarding and instructional tools against such as their program and that this provides promising evidence of the keyboarding without tears effectiveness to improve net words per minute over a free web-based activity. Now, this brings me to the limitations, and based upon what I've already said, you might expect me to have a few limitations of my own, but I'm gonna start with their limitations. The researchers did note that limitations included the size of the study, as it was a small study and limited to a certain geographical location. They also noted that the free program that they use for the typing test for the pre and post-test wasn't great for the younger kids, because kindergarteners maybe didn't even know what letters look like, and they were asking them to copy a paragraph, and they didn't even know what letters were. So that would be two things that they established as limitations.


Personally, like already mentioned, I think that they chose some of the worst online programs that are free for typing and that they could have compared their program to potentially a better free alternative. And you know what, they might have still found similar results, I'm not sure. As I also mentioned earlier, one of the schools that were selected as keyboarding without tears school was based on research or familiarity with a school as opposed to random selection. I would have liked to see that random selection. And they didn't exactly explain other than familiarity for why that school was selected to be keyboarding without tears or KWT school.


The last and potentially most blaring limitation and conflict of interest was that this complete research project was, "supported by learning without tears". I'm not sure what the full extent of the term supported means. I don't know if a financial was supported. But it was supported by the program, which was being tested. Likewise, the two key authors which I didn't realize when I started reading this article, but at the end, they made very clear that two of the research authors actually work part-time for learning without tears. So it's really hard to take some bias out of this article. It just kind of is right there and front, but they don't put it in they don't tell you that information until the very end of the article. So that was a little disappointing for me. Furthermore, after reading this article, figuring out that there might be some bias. I actually went to the learning without tears website, lwtears.com. And I looked at their keyboarding without tears program, I looked at what their marketing materials look like I looked at the program itself because like I said, I've never used it before. And what I found was that this article is being used as a marketing ploy to say that students who use their program are typing 43% faster than students who have not taken the program. And I'm not sure that that is entirely a fair estimate or a fair statement to be making.


So with all of that, I didn't come on this podcast to jump on here and talk bad about handwriting without tears. I mean, I really like handwriting without tears. It was one of the first training I ever went to. And I've been using concepts that I learned in that training for nine years as a school-based OT and I do really value all the content that they have created and everything that they put out. But I really cannot look at this article read through it and with a straight face think that Yeah, absolutely handwriting without tears. Sorry. keyboarding without tears is a better program than some of the other programs out there. I really wish I could have jumped on this podcast today with full enthusiasm for learning without tears and the keyboarding without tears program, but I simply can't. I just don't think that this was a great article, you know, yes, this may be a great product, I've never used it. But I can't say that this article really proves that their program is better than other programs out there, even the free ones.


So to the authors of this research article, I really do appreciate the background that you put into creating this article. I appreciate the term that you use for student occupational demands, I think that is something that we should all be using more frequently. I appreciate the information on Common Core State Standards. I really do. I understand that there aren't any norms. Thank you for sharing that with me. But at the end of the day, the actual research itself, I just can't look at and take straightforward. I just think that there's a little too much bias involved here. And I just can't I can't say that I can't go to an IEP and say, Hey, parent, you know what handwriting without tears there, keyboarding without tears program, that is the best option. When I know that there are other programs online that are free, that might do just as much or better of a job for free. I'm sorry, that's just my final takeaway from this episode from this article that I read was that it doesn't really tell me that I really need to use this program over some of the free programs that I'm aware of. Alright, so with that, I'm going to go ahead and wrap up today's session of the OT School House podcast. This has been Episode 75 and it has definitely been real. I hope to see you next time for Episode 76. Take care and see you next time. Bye-bye.


Amazing Narrator

Thank you for listening to the OT School House podcast. For more ways to help you and your students succeed right now. Head on over to OTschoolhouse.com until next time, class is dismissed.




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Have any questions or comments about the podcast? Email Jayson at Jayson@otschoolhouse.com

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