Needed more now than ever before, keyboarding instruction should begin long before high school.
by Dr. Rob Reilly
Regular contributor to the Gazette
Reprinted from the November 2002 Gazette
July 1, 2008
I was in the US Army 6 years ago (note: that's 6 dog years--it makes me feel younger to use dog years to measure things). Anyway, after basic training I went to clerk-typist school for training. There I had a few weeks of intense, but ineffective, touch typing training. I never really learned how to touch type. Of course I did not learn to touch type even when I reached my unit of assignment because I was assigned to a hospital as a medic! Thus I never had an opportunity to practice the meager skills I acquired in basic training. At the bachelor's degree level, college was a blur--I don't really remember if I did any term papers or not. I'm sure that I must have done some term papers, but I don't remember if I used a typewriter or a word processor or mental telepathy. I don't remember much about graduate school either, that was almost as blurry, but I do remember typing a few term papers. At the doctoral level I did lots and lots of term papers, position papers, white papers, thought papers, and, for my personal use, I wrote some mental health papers (these were just full of cuss words--I only submitted them to the waste basket).
Looking back on all this I realize that I did suffer for the lack of touch typing skill. I still suffer along today. I can type very quickly using 2 to 4 fingers, and, I can use two-hands but I do need to look at the keyboard. The 'good news' is that I don't need to transcribe anything, so I don't need to look away from the keyboard when I do type. The 'bad news' is that children in school need to get touch-typing skills as soon as they can. But schools do not teach this in the elementary school curriculum; and the schools that do, do not have any enrichment (e.g., time to practice the finger reaches). Far too often this skill is reserved for the high school years; it seems to be the exclusive mandate of the business department. Well, waiting until the high school years is too late. The 'good news' here is that it's not too late to acquire this skill in high school, but why wait?
I do understand why some school districts are hesitant to teach touch-typing in the lower grades. Even if they do teach it, the kids do not have practice time--there are no term papers, there are no compositions. After all, if you take piano lessons you won't improve unless you practice after class--so why take piano lessons until you have enough time to 'practice'?
All things considered, touch-typing must be a 3rd or 4th grade skill. The problem is not in teaching the skill, the problem is how to provide some practice so that the skill can become ingrained--can become a fundamental motor skill of sorts.
It would seem that the best practice would be to begin with a non-keyboard lesson(s). UltraKeys produces an excellent software package to teach touch typing, but they also have an excellent video and a book that contains suggestions to help prepare younger students to form the correct hand positions, the finger reaches, etc. It seems appropriate to use this approach with the younger children (grades K, 1 and 2). To get a taste of these exercises go to: http://www.bytesoflearning.com
Geesh, it may be worthwhile to make a whole bunch of Xerox copies of an actual keyboard and have students practice the finger reaches on their desks. Who says that you need a real keyboard for this drill?
There are a number of excellent software packages that teach touch-typing. Interestingly enough Erthal (1996) states that "no software program has been shown to be superior to capable, live keyboarding instruction" lead by a real live teacher. Schmidt (1985) supports this notion and states that, "Software programs serve well for drill, remediation, enrichment practice, as well as adding variety to keyboarding instruction. Software cannot be programmed to see, to hear, or to feel the keyboarding instructional needs of the student." That's all well-and-good, but practicing on software and Xeroxed keyboards seems a very reasonable and productive alternative.
When utilizing software for teacher-centered drills, Dr. Bert Pisha from the Center for Applied Special Technology (www.cast.org) recommends three major points. He stresses 1. Distributed practice (e.g., 10 minutes per day, 5 days) is more effective than massed practice (e.g., 45 minutes every Tuesday). 2. It's critical that learners be able to submit their homework or school work in word processed form. Otherwise keyboarding is just another problem for the learner, rather than a solution to a problem (handwriting is slow, clunky, and difficult to revise). 3. It's important to do brief speed/accuracy 'probes' or tests regularly, then graph the results for the students to see.
As for 3rd-7th grade keyboarding/touch-typing software, UltraKeys 4.0.8 is a terrific, well-supported, widely used product that has won a number of awards. The Bytes of Learning company's Web site (www.bytesoflearning.com) even provides a downloadable, free-trial copy of Ultra Keys (PC and Mac versions are available).
Good luck! Start to learn touch-typing early in a child's school career.
Erthal, M. (1996). Keyboarding Software and Touch Keyboarding. Tennessee Business Education Journal, 4 (1), 11-13.
Schmidt, B. (1985). Keyboarding: Classroom Problems and Solutions. Delta Pi Epsilon Tips,1 (1).
Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough Elementary School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts USA. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is conducting NSF funded research in the area of affective computing, emotions and learning. He has been a Visiting Scientist at MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, a Post Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts' Office of Information Technologies, and a Teaching Associate, at the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org His Web site is: http://web.media.mit.edu/~reilly/.