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21st Century Keyboarding Skills

This past week was a busy one as we met with all of our elementary school-based trainers and, since we have an overly-large number of elementary schools, that meant four full days.

Interacting with all these talented people is the best part and the liveliest discussions this time around centered on the topic of teaching keyboarding.

Specifically, at what grade level should we start teaching kids formal typing skills? Or should we be teaching formal skills at all? Is there another technique that would be more appropriate?

I added my opinions to the mix, of course, but I’m pretty sure I was in the minority. Which is why I’m throwing out my thoughts here where everyone else can ignore them. :-)

Many of our elementary schools teach classic typing skills to 3rd graders, often by taking them to a computer lab on a regular schedule and having them work with an interactive program.

That software uses techniques that are really not much different from those used in the formal keyboarding classes many of us took in high school (and which have disappeared from that level around here).

However, that curriculum came from a time when typing was an analog process on mechanical devices.

Developing speed and accuracy was important because everything you did was largely permanent. Fixing typos was messy and it was very time consuming to revise documents.

Digital devices, which come in many forms (including those that look nothing like a typewriter), make text manipulation a much more flexible process.

Accuracy becomes less important since students can easily make corrections (most text editors will even mark the errors) and revise their work. Not to mention that writing should be more collaborative and less an isolated activity.

And what about speed? Well, I’m not worried about that. Look at how fast our kids can work the clunky input device for texting on most cell phones.

I know, I know… they use a lot of short cuts in communicating with text messaging. And an IM is much shorter than a research paper.

However, it does show that students will learn to operate a keyboard faster all by themselves IF we give them a good reason to do that.

All of this doesn’t mean we don’t need to help very young children learn the basic of using this convoluted entry device known as the QWERTY keyboard.

But there must be better ways to do it than using a curriculum from early in the past century designed for single-purpose hardware.


  1. Kimberly Herbert

    I disagree. I’m at a low sco/eco school. 60% of my kids have no access to computers at home. I have the kids in Technology 45 min a week. The first 5 are spent on different typing games I find on line. I start with them in 1st grade. In kinder they learn to use a mouse.

    The other 40 minutes they spend learning to use cameras, video cameras, recording devices, geo cashing (SP). They make podcasts, they make videos, they set up puzzles for children in lower grades, and they run a in school TV station.

  2. Barry Dahl

    Hi Tim,
    This is a topic that I have recently talked about with K-12 educators as well. Suffice it to say that I am also a holder of a minority opinion. I tell the story about how last year my sixth grade daughter was so excited to have “computer class” for the first semester – excited until she spent the first three months doing nothing but keyboarding drills. Now she never wants to take another computer class, although she still loves to use the computer at home where she can do her own thing (somewhat, at least, within the boundaries we have set for her).

    Kids struggle to make sense of why the keys are laid out the way they are on a QWERTY board. Makes no sense to them. Nostalgia or tradition are not very good reasons to them.

    My main concern though comes from why we spend so much time on a skill (or function) that probably has a very limited future. Between rapidly improving voice recognition and the quickly advancing touch input methods, the standard keyboard could be (probably should be) put out to pasture within the next 5-10 years. I can certainly talk faster than I can input with a keyboard, and even MS windows voice recognition does a pretty darn good job of capturing what I say.

    We’ll probably never simplify our tax code because so many tax accountants would be unemployed. Is that the same reason that we continue to teach keyboarding? Just to employ the dinosaur teachers? Or are we trying to train all kids to be secretaries? No matter what the rationale, I can’t make sense of it myself.
    Best, Barry

  3. Tom Hoffman

    Yet surely kids should not graduate from high school without being able to touch type. It truly is a literacy skill these days. I certainly agree that introducing kids to computing with a typing tutor is a disservice, but we need to fit it in somewhere.

  4. Dave

    This is easy: let students chat with each other over the network while they’re in the computer lab, but use a custom IM tool that’s built into touch-typing software. The IM tool only allows students to use the letters/words/whatever they’ve already shown mastery of.

    The tricky part is deciding which letters to teach last. I suppose you could do punctuation last. Once one kid finished it all and was the only one who could make smilies, the race would be on!

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