Posted in Assistive Technology, Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, Occupational Therapy

Keyboarding 101

Photo Credit:  Michael Maggs
Photo Credit: Michael Maggs

For the purposes of this series on Keyboarding, I will be referring to the standard QWERTY keyboard and 2-button mouse (with center scroll).  The information in this post comes from my memory of past investigations of keyboarding and computer skills.  I researched this topic quite extensively, reviewing the programs of a large number of districts throughout the United States and the standards outlined in ISTE, all of which I found on-line.

The Early Years (Pre-K)

Early computer skills include:

  • Developing accurate mouse skills (accurately reaching and clicking on the target)
  • Activating programming buttons using the mouse
  • Developing attention to the screen and the activity
  • Using ‘POWER’ keys, such as ‘ENTER,’ ‘TAB,’ and ‘SPACE BAR.’
  • Beginning letter recognition by depressing the requested key on the keyboard

When working with little ones, I used to use “Reader Rabbit.”  The kids loved the “Follow Me Theater.”  This is still available from Amazon and has worked on my Windows 7 computers, I am not sure about Windows 8.  This is the type of programming that can support learning, imitation and fine motor movement, in addition to learning mouse skills.  By Kindergarten, kids should be able to recognize and find all the letters in their first name.   He or she should also be able to capitalize the first letter of their name and use lowercase for the remainder of the letters.  Children , at this age, should be able to recognize and identify at least 20 letters [upper and lower case].  It is also a good idea, at this time, to experiment with different fonts–form consistency.

Be very careful not to make the computer the only activity that your child enjoys.  Limit computer time to 10 minutes or so.  Encourage plenty of gross and fine motor activities to prevent your child from developing a sedentary lifestyle.


Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Using OneNote for Daily Tasks in an Alternately Assessed Classroom


One of the daily tasks that a student in an alternately assessed class can do is to take attendance.  Many students can recognize classmates names, even though he or she is unable to read.  By using OneNote, the daily attendance can become an activity that is easily mastered in a short period of time.

In the screen shot above, I have added a number of fictitious names with a check box next to each name.  I have enlarged the font making the requisite eye hand coordination a bit easier.  The student in charge of attendance merely needs to either click on the box, or if using a tablet, tap it to check the box to indicate that the student was in attendance.  You can make the template a bit more challenging by adding additional responses, such, absent, and even add related services, i.e., OT, PT, Speech, etc.

The Attendance form is saved as a template so that there is no need to recreate the form each time.  The form is easily modified to add or subtract additional students.  A space for a student to sign can also be added and completed with with a pen tablet on a PC or with a stylus on the iPad or tablet.

Attendance 2

This is another, more advanced version of taking attendance.  The template saved on OneNote can be modified as your students abilities improve.  The student responsible for taking attendance will need to interact with each student in the room to obtain his or her initials on the form.  This can be accomplished using a pen tablet with a PC or a stylus using an iPad.  Learning how to write initials is another skill that will become useful in vocational training.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Dictation is a Necessary Note-Taking Skill

What?  Dictation you say???

Yes absolutely, being able to take dictation is an important part of taking notes.  After all, isn’t the teacher talking about subject matter, while moving about the classroom?  Isn’t the student supposed to be writing some of the things that the teacher is saying [not all, but some].

Learning to take dictation is simple.  You should start in kindergarten and 1st grade.  Yes, this young.  Remember, taking dictation is a motor response to an auditory cue.  When a child is young, learning to take dictation should be fun.  A scavenger hunt in the classroom, the house or in the backyard is a perfect way to begin.  First, dictate letters [no more than 5], have the child write the letters that you dictate and then have the child locate an item that begin with each letter.  Make sure that you are using the letters and words that have been practiced in class to reinforce what has already been learned.  Also, turn the tables and have the child give you 5 letters [words] and you must also find items.  You may also make the sound of a letter and ask the child to write the letter that he or she thinks it is. While some say that this is too early to learn dictation, it is not.  As long as you are using the same material learned in class and make a game out of it, you will be fine.  ALWAYS follow the child’s lead.  Never push a child to go faster.  The object of this exercise is for the child to write what he or she hears and not speed.  I would also include using a keyboard to type the letters.  First we want to create letter recognition and then familiarity with the keyboard.  As the child becomes more skilled in keyboarding, allow the child to choose the fonts and colors that he or she likes.  Again, this must be a fun activity.  If it is not fun then you are not reinforcing the excitement of learning.  Learning is not always fun and some students struggle immensely.  When working with a parent or therapist, learning should reinforce school skills and be fun.  We do not want the child to lose interest and shut down.


As a child grows and develops additional skills, vocabulary words can be used for dictation. Not only does this increase the amount of handwriting and keyboarding practice that a child gets, it also helps to learn study skills.  If your child is having difficulty with spelling, you can get a parent account on to practice spelling and vocabulary with computer games.  They have an iPad app, if you choose.

Increasing the complexity of the task, I would start with sentences in the 3rd grade. Sentences should be very short and be related to the vocabulary being learned in school. You can make a sort of Mad Libs and have the child insert silly words into the dictation. Again, follow the child’s lead and give him or her the time to write what you have said.  The goal, again, is for the child to reinforce what is learned in class and to be able to write what is heard.  By 4th grade, I would take a very short paragraph from the material that is used in the class and dictate from that.  I would also have the child dictate to me.  Again, it needs to be fun, a game.  I might also have the child correct my handwriting, to help them be more observant in making corrections on their own.  Even if you are perfect, make some mistakes that your child has already learned for editing their own work.  If you are at a loss for material, many of the local newspapers are written on a 3rd grade level.  Pick an interesting human interest or sports story and dictate a very short excerpt.

By the time a child reaches middle and high school, I work on dictating and entire paragraph from the newspaper, often something related to a DBQ [Document Based Questionnaire] that they are working on in class.  I have them either type or write the material and begin to improve speed.  Up until this point, accuracy has been the focus of the dictation and not speed.  I would also practice using the prompt words for note-taking and have the child take down the important points [based on my prompts].  As a therapist, I would be sharing what I would be doing in a session, with the classroom teachers so that they can see the value of the therapy and also follow through.  As a parent, if you have any concerns with handwriting, spelling, listening skills, etc., please discuss these with your child’s teacher or therapist.