Special Education Today Newsletter 1(23)

The week’s news and info for 22 November 2021

  • Dear SET folx,

Here we go again! I’m sending you yet another issue of Special Education Today (and it’s posted on the Web site). Thanks for reading!

This is my father’s typwriter.

You’re getting this message because you’ve subscribed (either free or premium—YAY!) or someone forwarded it to you. In case you’re getting the forwarded version, please create your own entry in the email database; its free; just click the button at the end of this paragraph.

If you no longer want to get the newsletters—and, I hope you still do want to receive them—you will find an “unsubscribe link” at the end of this newsletter. Please note that unsubscribing will only work if you are a subscriber; if you’re getting someone else’s forwarded message—you might unsubscribe the person who sent it to you!

This 23rd weekly issue of the first volume-year of SET has the usual content. In addition to referring to articles publish on the Web site this past week, there are (a) a brief status report for the site and the newsletter, and (b) a bit of commentary at the end. If you’re a regular reader, this structure should sound familiar.

Status update

The number of e-mail subscribers continues to increase, though the increase has not come in the great spurts that we saw in the summer. The subscriber base grew by a net of about 2-3% this past week. There were, I think, 0 unsubs and > 7 subs. So welcome all y’all who just subscribed to the free side on the 14th-21st of November or more recently. I welcome your thoughts about what’s beneficial-attractive and what’s not-so-good. Please drop comments on posts and send me notes via back channels.

Whatever growth there is, it’s thanks to SET’s dear readers. To y’all who drop a Tweet on Twitter or mention SET in a FB post, thank you! Your actions help other special educators learn about SET, and I welcome those other educators to read this. I just hope that the content I’m publishing is attractive enough that the folks y’all alert about it will want to subscribe!

Anyway, please keep clicking on those share buttons (and equivalents). Not each share will increase the base of addresses, but I appreciate your help.

Flashes of the electrons

This week’s probably incomplete list shows who among SET pals interacted with the magazine (14-12 November) by either liking posts or commenting on them (or both). Thanks to everyone:

  • Clay K.

  • Jennifer S.

  • Lysandra C.

  • Michael K.

  • Tina C.

  • Jane B.

  • Elizabeth (Betsy) T.

And thanks to all those whom I missed.

Thanks, too, for tweets, retweets, and likes on Twitter. I suspect that there was activity there this week that I didn’t catalog. Sigh. Probably I missed tweets from followers or others who liked or retweeted content, but I appreciate efforts by any of y’all to spread the word on that medium (and even FB!).

This Week’s Table of Contents

Since the last newsletter a week ago, I added five new posts to the corpus on SET. Here is a list of them. I hope that they are helpful.


As I watch people touch type, I often remark that I am very happy to have learned this skill at a young age. In junior high school I and just about every other student was required to take a typing class. I’ve reaped great benefit from that class! (I’ll come back to the class and the instruction.)

Here, I want to remark about those benefits, take a quick cruise through the instruction (as I remember it), and briefly consider the cognitive processes involved in typing. In a way, I think touch typing provides insight into psychology and instruction in decoding, computing, spelling, and more.

In my early-adolescent typing class, we sat at rows of typewriters, perhaps as many as 48 of us at a time. The typewriters, which resembled office-quality early electric typewriters, had keys without letters and numerals on them. The teacher explained the rationale for the absence of marks on the keys (one has to learn to type without looking at the keyboard or the output) and began instruction pretty much immediately:

“Put your fingers on the middle row and feel for the dots...there are two dots and you should rest your index fingers on them. This position will be the home row. The key under the index finger of you left hand is ‘f’ and the one under the index finger on your right hand is ‘j.’”

“Type two ‘fs,’” he said. “Type a ‘j.’” He continued: “‘f’...’j’...’f’ ‘j,’ ‘j,’ ‘j,’ ‘f.’”

“Keeping your fingers on the home row...feel those dots!...reach with your right pinkie and press the wide key at the right of the home row. What happened? That’s right, you started a new line! Let’s continue: ‘f,’ ‘f,’ ‘j,’ ‘f,’ return. ‘j,’ ‘j,’ ‘f,’ ‘f’ ‘j,’ ‘j,’ ‘j,’ ‘f.’

We progressed to other letters pretty rapidly. “T” is just above the left index finger. “A” is just under the left pinky. “E” is above the left middle finger. “S” is right there at the left ring finger. “K” is under the right middle finger. “M” is just below the right index finger. The teacher said, “‘s,’ ‘m,’ ‘r,’ ‘t,’ ‘j,’ ‘f,’ ‘return.’”

Pretty soon, we were typing ‘jet,’ ‘set,’ ‘time,’ and many more words. In days, we were typing nearly automatically!

And a big winner for us—me, at least,—happened pretty early in the lessons when the instructor told us not to listen to him any longer, but to look away from the keyboard and the results of our typing, and to look at and type what we were reading from a booklet. “‘j,’ ‘r,’ ‘k,’ ‘a,’ ‘r,’ ‘jar,’ ‘jet,’ ‘people,’ ‘All men are created equal...,” and etc.”

Once we students in the class could read and copy ~50-60 words per minute with few errors (5 wpm off for each error, as I recall), we were free to begin typing our own content during parts of class meetings. The entire class took a year, but I was launched! I could not only copy, but I could also compose at a typewriter! I was able to type the assignment for another class project during my typing class. Woohoo...I was going to write the great American novel! (oops)

What does the typing experience tell us about “cognitive processing?” I’ll contend that it provides a pretty powerful illustration of what happens in our brains.

Typing is essentially related to the spelling knowledge that is a part of becoming a skilled reader. The fundamental connection is that, from reading and writing repeatedly (1000s of practice opportunities), we know how to spell words. Somewhere along the line, I (and I hope you) acquired competence in reading and spelling words.

Connecting typing to decoding is pretty obvious. If you don’t know one, you probably don’t know the other. Typing requires those of us who are touch typists to map our knowledge of spelling onto finger movements. It’s complicated, but it’s not whacked out. Remember “‘f,’ ‘s,’ ‘r.’” We are simply using what we know about phonology in an automatic translation to our FINGERS!

Reading-spelling competence is a a key to success in typing. If you have the map for phoneme-graphemes, you’re way ahead with typing. You’re going backwards, in a way, from the symbol-sound (grapheme-phoneme) relationship. You’re taking the sound and mapping it to one or more symbols. Your fingers code the symbols for the sounds. It’s still the alphabetic principle.

So, typing is about the automaticity that LaBerge and Samuels (1973) so famously described in reading. We humans get better at at things as we practice doing them repeatedly. We become more skillful, and the actions become automatic.

When I compose documents (such as this post!), I don’t have to think about typing. I just press keys. The thinking is sooo far below my conscious intention, that I have to stop myself and reflect. I type as if I’m speaking...what’ll I type (i.e., “say”) next?

Well, my typing history—what I’m typing next!—reflects my upbringing. My father was a touch typist and, as a frequent writer and editor, he provided a good model of the benefits of typing without having to search for keys. As a child there was usually a typewriter at some readily accessible place in the houses where I grew up. In fact, I still have the portable typewriter that my father took with him when, in the late 1920s, he started his undergraduate studies at—wait for it—the University of Virginia! Here’s a photo of that typewriter.

My father could sit with a guest, a person interested in writing a book, and bang out paragraphs about what the person was saying almost like he was a stenographer. I admired his competence in turning conversation into text.

I wish I could emulate Bill Lloyd’s competence in converting ideas into type. My father left teaching to become a newspaperman. Then, after serving as a communications officer in the Pacific during WW2, he established a public relations office for the Richmond, VA, public schools. He was on the “wrong side” of Brown v. Board of Education in Virginia at that time. Soon after the controversy about that discussion, he took a postion at the American Association of School Adminitrators before pursuing a doctorate (which he never completed; he collected data about whether immigrant children in Colorado in the 1950s were in school).

So, not only was William E. Lloyd, Sr., an important figure in my life (duh), but he was on a track that I admire. He provided me a lot of important ideas about justice, equity, and giving a damn about other people. I appreciate the ideas. And, I can type!

The usual exhortations

OK (okay?), here are my recommendations about your behavior. Sorry for being presumptuous in making them; I hope you understand that I make them because I give a damn about people and want good outcomes for them, not that I consider myself “the boss of you”:

  • Wear your seatbelts: Remember to affix them right away when you get into your car! (For several years, I drove a 1956 Thunderbird, which was, I think, the first US production vehicle to have seatbelts; Saab began making belts available in the late 1940s, apparently.)

  • COVID: Get vaccinated (I have had a booster since October, yay!), but please understand that having a vaccination doesn’t solve the problem. Reducing the spread of the virus requires a multi-variate approach that includes ventilation of spaces where people congregate, safe social distance, regular and thorough hand washing, and masking (I still wear one or two when I’m in enclosed space with lots of people whose status I don’t know).

  • And, I implore you to teach your children systematically and explicitly (including teaching how to behave safely during a pandemic).

SET Editor guy

SET should not be confused with a product with the same name that is published by the Council for Exceptional Children nor other products with similar names. SET predated other publication by decades. Despite my appreciation for CEC and the efforts by others to promote special educatoin, this product is not designed to promote other organizations or publications.