Hi Steve, welcome aboard!
I know some suggest using a code reader to help guide you with your transmit code. I generally discourage owning a code reader at all.. because from what I've seen, it easily becomes a crutch for receiving. Once you start using one to recieve, it will be difficult to give it up. I've seen this first hand. And in my opinion, if you gotta use a code reader, you might as well just progress on to the digital modes and skip CW.
That having been said, you already know the most direct way to improving your code abilities is practice.. both on the air and self study. What ever you do, kick the habit of transcribing written dits and dahs to letters. Again, bad habits are very difficult to shake once engrained. If code is too quick and forces you to that method, stop and move on. If you're in QSO, break in and tell the other op to slow down by sending QRS.
Join us in the SKCC K3UK Sked page at http://www.obriensweb.com/sked/index.php?board=skcc
You can coordinate with one of the fine ops there to have a simultaneous on-air QSO and sked page chat. I don't know anyone in SKCC who won't slow down to whatever speed you need. The sked page code-buddy is a great way to start out on the air with confidence that you don't have to get everything copied 100%. Followup afterward (or even during the QSO) in the chat page for feedback. I've elmered a number of code students this way with great results.
Hope to work you on the air soon!
73 Paul N6EV #3358T