Keyboarding Thoughts

 

Thoughts on Teaching Keyboarding

August 10, 2001
Revision G March 23, 2002
Derrel Fincher

IntroductionSoftwareAssessmentImprovementStudent PerceptionsSuggestionsOn-Line InformationED641 Keyboarding Discussion

Introduction

I started this document in response to a question about teaching keyboarding in the ED640 newsgroup. The contents are my own thoughts and opinions, and it certainly isn't intended to be a scholarly treatise. It's also open to revision as I learn new ideas.

We teach keyboarding to our sixth graders for one semester every other day in the 44 minute period. The course website gives basic information about the course. We also require all seventh and eighth graders who do not have keyboarding on their transcripts to take the course. The first quarter we spend on learning all of the keys, and the second quarter we expand into building skill on all of the keys, composing, and doing production jobs. For composing, we'll give the students a writing prompt or they may write on the topic of their choice, which often is the book report due the next period. Students have the option of working on other school work that involves keyboarding rather than the assigned production jobs.

Software

For our keyboarding program, we use Microtype Pro from Southwestern Educational Publishing (http://www.swep.com), a division of Thompson learning. I don't recall the version we use (and I'm not there to check), but it was obviously designed to work on Windows 3.1 machines. The current version we have not used, but it is designed for later versions of Windows. The lead keyboarding teacher chose the software because it was one of the few packages that came with a book. As a Business Education teacher, she is probably the only person in our school who actually studied the theory behind teaching typing so she has a much better idea of how to do it. She feels it is important for students to get used to using a book and a program and because it is easier to give guided practice and move the students along in the book than with the program. (We run through the program faster than designed, so there are times we do clip through a few sections.) However, as we know, hardly anybody keys from copy today and our students will compose most of their work on the screen, so we do practice composing after they learn the keys.

Assessment

We formally assess the students in the first quarter with two observations where we look at body posture; finger, wrist, and hand posture; correct keying technique; correct space, shift, and enter technique, eyes on copy ability, and (I love this one!) "mind set". Each is on a ten point scale. Notice that we do not assess speed. We know that if students practice and use the correct techniques, they will improve in speed and accuracy. The second quarter formal assessment is one observation and several production jobs. Although the class used to be graded, it is now on a pass/fail system. I asked for the change after one semester when a mother came into parent conferences and was appalled that her son was getting a "B". She wanted to know what he could do to get an "A"! Who cares? The goal of keyboarding is not to get a grade; it's to learn a valuable skill! (As a side note, my own son received a "B" in keyboarding in sixth grade. As a high school sophomore, he types fluently and accurately. Did the "B" reflect anything about his understandings?)

So, who fails the course? It's been close for a few who have failed to put in the appropriate effort. For those students, I call them over to one side and quietly discuss, in order: 1) What can I do to help them? 2) It takes more work to fail the course than to pass it.  3) I have computers in my classroom, where I eat lunch, and they will be invited to join me during lunch because maybe they need more practice? Those who have joined me for lunch have shown remarkable improvement in less than a week.

Improvement

The Business Education teacher told me that she used to believe the only way to effectively teach keyboarding was for a full year, every day (anybody out there suffer through that?) and we are now doing it with younger students in slightly less than a quarter of the contact time. As she and I have discussed, students these days use a keyboard extensively, whereas when she started teaching, hardly anybody had touched a typewriter except to play. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time trying to get students to correct bad habits they have picked up because they have often worked on the computer with little, if any, instruction on efficient and safe ways to use a keyboard.

When I started teaching keyboarding, she told me that the average increase in speed was 15-20 words a minute. A couple of hundred students later and, lo and behold, she's right! That may not seem like much, but most of the students end up doing it with correct fingering. The result is that they will continue to improve in later grades. You do always have the few every year who, for whatever reason, don't improve. Seeing them a couple of years later is painful as they are still doing a lot of hunting and pecking.

Student Perceptions

How do the students feel about the keyboarding? End of the semester comments are almost always positive. I've also discussed with my 8th grade classes (other subjects) whether keyboarding had helped them. They are much more positive about it two years later than at the end of the course because they see the effect. I've talked with the MS Language Arts teachers about it—most have told me of students who, for whatever reason, can't keyboard and the struggle they have trying to keep up with the expected amount of writing.

Suggestions

Keyboarding should always be integrated with other classes. Although it is a physical skill, using fledgling techniques in authentic situations is preferable to trying to attain a minimum skill level before moving into authentic situations.  (Note: I'm indebted to Linda Polin for her discussion of skill hierarchies.) With this in mind, and based on looking at other programs and talking with teachers who have tried various ways of introducing keyboarding, a sample program for integration might look like:

  1. Teach keyboarding daily for thirty minutes or so the first two weeks of school, with the goal of introducing the students to all of the alpha keys.
  2. Expect students to use proper technique at all time and enlist other teachers help reinforce this. (This is the hard part as teachers are focused on things in their own classes.)
  3. Every other day or so for the first quarter, have the students do monitored work for thirty minutes. The first ten minutes should be material that explicitly exercises all of the keystrokes. (Think of doing scales on a piano.) The next twenty minutes should be an authentic situation where students are expected to write more or less continuously. Students should have as much choice as possible and instant messaging, email, journaling, report writing and so forth are all appropriate. The focus should be on writing and not on editing. Instant messaging and email are interesting because these are authentic situations for students, but for which I've notice the least carryover of any of the skills (keyboarding, sentence composition, and so forth) that are taught in school. Using these two items can be a good time to help students differentiate between their professional voice and their personal voice.
  4. Revisit the keys and the drills in the third quarter, but for a shorter time.
  5. Integrate all composing and production job work traditionally taught in keyboarding into existing coursework.

On-line Information

These on-line resources are the result of a quick search through the Internet and have not been vetted, nor are they intended to be representative. However, although an older document, Keyboarding in Elementary Schools: Curricular Issues , has some interesting points about keyboarding. Bill Machrone, and editor with PC Magazine, wrote an interesting article called Teach Your Children Well that discusses his view of keyboarding after working with his son's boy scouts troop. (The article was not currently available on the website, so the link points to the Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org).

An Interview with Gay Wiseman

Northstar Teacher Advisory Council Notes

Saskatchewan Education Keyboarding Recommendations

"Train-the-Trainer" --Teaching Keyboarding to Elementary-age Students

Commercial Programs

Gay Wiseman's Programs

Ellsworth Publishing

ED641 Keyboarding Discussion.

As part of ED 641 after VirtCamp, we ended up in a discussion about teaching keyboarding. As always, some people advocate for it and some people advocate against it. On August 11, our professor posted the following:

Frankly, my associate dean (you met _______) uses two fingers and a thumb and he's fast enough to keep up online in Tapped In, to write documents, etc etc. My husband uses the classic four finger approach and he writes way more than even I do. So, hmmm...what are we trying to do here? what's our REAL point?

My reply:

Yes, we all know people who are two finger typists and do marvelously well. Our 8th grade social studies teacher hits the keyboard so hard he goes through one a year. However, every one of these people is a professional who has chosen a career where writing is expected. They are writers. They have ideas they want to share. Two finger typing is something they have made their peace with because they have ideas they want to share. Did anybody see Quills? As portrayed, the Marquis de Sade had to write—lack of materials did not stop him. Maybe your associate dean and husband are related to the Marquis de Sade? :-)

Unfortunately, many of our students aren't in the same mold. Painful! At NCCE in March, students from a middle school presented their laptop program. None had been taught to keyboard because it wasn't in the curriculum. I felt sorry for them trying to hunt and peck, even though they were enthusiastic about their laptops. The coordinator figured that they would "pick it up." Nope, the ones who will just "pick it up" are the ones for whom the urge to say something overshadows the effort of using the keyboard. We will never hear from those who don't "pick it up" because they won't put in the effort to write about it.

What a difference it is to visit a class where everybody knows how to keyboard! Frankly, I'm surprised by how much, and how easily, our middle school students write. The seventh graders probably churn out as much material in their second semester as I had to write during my entire 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years. Even the students who we would expect not to write much do more because it's easier at a keyboard for them, and writing begets writing. Like anything, the more you do, the better you become and the easier it flows.

Our REAL point? That's up there with, "What's the meaning of life". (Okay, I don't know! ;-> ) But a point about keyboarding? Here's a stab at it—communication is the benefit; keyboarding is one feature we introduce to students to help them obtain that benefit. You don't need to know keyboarding to communicate well but, it does make it easier for those who don't as easily realize they have something to say. As with everything we do, it has a time and place, and we have to keep asking ourselves if we are still in the correct time and place.

 

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