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.

Txtng is Gd 4 U

For all those teachers out there who think texting by students is killing the Queen’s English, a new book* by “Britain’s most prolific linguist” disagrees.

David Crystal’s “Txtng: the Gr8 Db8” (Oxford) makes two general points: that the language of texting is hardly as deviant as people think, and that texting actually makes young people better communicators, not worse.

Where the naysayers see destruction, Crystal sees growth. He believes in the same theory of evolution for language as some evolutionary biologists do for life: change isn’t gradual.

The effect is similar to what happens when parents yak away to infants or read to toddlers: the more exposure children get to language, by whatever means, the more verbally skilled they become.

Really it’s all about communication and learning to use the appropriate language at the appropriate time.

We need to do a better job of teaching those skills instead of simply dismissing this particular evolution of language.

[* To be published September 1]