Gerald Haigh explains why a Liverpool invention has proved such a boon
The arrival and rapid success of a piece of maintenance-free plastic kit called Keyboard Crazy has done a great deal to bolster what could be called the lo-tech end of the ICT spectrum.
Essentially, Keyboard Crazy is an oversize plastic free-standing qwerty keyboard with holes where the keys would go. Into the holes, children slot square tablets - upper and lower case - with the letters printed on them. By fitting the tablets into the right place, they learn to recognise the letters and to memorise their positions on the keyboard.
However, that is just the start. The real value of the game lies in the way that children can "type" words - picking up the tablets and putting them in the right spaces. This leads to competitive and co-operative games around spelling and grammar - for example a series of 10- minute sessions, pioneered by John Bell, a teacher at Admirals' Junior School in Thetford, Norfolk, called "Mental literacy."
Keyboard Crazy is tremendously effective in group work - one Keyboard Crazy per table - where what you see is keen co-operation within each group and eager competition between them. To see is to be convinced, and there's evidence of improved performance in literacy. Individual schools, starting around Keyboard Crazy's home base in Liverpool, were quick to take up Keyboard Crazy, devising new and innovative ways of using it, and the message spread quickly among heads and teachers, helped by reports posted on the Keyboard Crazy website. Soon it was noticed by local authority advisers and primary strategy leaders who, across the country, are putting their influence - and resources - behind it, running trials and producing reports, some of which are available on the Keyboard Crazy website. A trial across schools in Warrington, for example, showed marked improvements in literacy skills.
In Norfolk, the Primary Strategy team picked up on John Bell's work at Admirals' Junior, and last year carried out over six months, in a range of schools, what is probably the most detailed evaluation of Keyboard Crazy so far. This concludes that although many factors are at work when children make progress, there's strong evidence that the use of Keyboard Crazy is responsible for marked gains in writing and spelling. There are other benefits, too. The report says: "Many teachers felt using the game had enhanced children's collaborative skills, with discussion and group work being much improved."
The Norfolk Report, together with other reports, is on the Keyboard Crazy website which also has ordering details, teaching materials and ideas. www.keyboardcrazy.co.uk