With an enormous computer presence in schools, the question is no longer whether to teach keyboarding but when to teach it.
With computers accessible to every student, most teachers and experts in education say the teaching of keyboarding is a given. But when is the best age to teach students proper keyboarding technique?
"Most research supports starting students on formal keyboarding around grade 4," says Theresa Tovey, occupational therapist in Region #4 (Chester, Deep River, and Essex) in Connecticut. "All kids do not have the eye-hand motor coordination to learn keyboarding skills earlier than that."
"That isn't to say that nothing can be done with keyboarding before grade 4," Tovey continues. "It's good for students to get familiar with the keyboard in the earlier grades. We encourage students to pretend there's a line down the middle of the keyboard and to keep the right hand to the right of the line and the left hand to the left. We also encourage them to type with more than one finger because they may tend to use just the index finger. For later instruction, it's good for students to develop the habit of using more than one finger early on."
An informal look at school Web sites and listservs on the Internet indicates that much formal keyboarding instruction in schools begins at third and fourth grade or later, although there are, of course, exceptions. Other schools begin formal keyboarding classes in grades 5 through 8.
Theresa Tovey believes one reason to wait until 4th grade to teach keyboarding is that students need to develop handwriting skills as well. "Some people would say that handwriting is practically obsolete, because of the computer, but learning how to write is a necessary motor exercise," she says. "You can de-emphasize handwriting, but you can't bypass it or you lose something in developing eye-hand coordination."
Other educational technologists are more adamant about teaching keyboarding at the lower grades. "If you combine keyboarding with letter-recognition and hand-eye coordination activities in grades K-3, then you provide a developmentally appropriate skill that helps reinforce classroom learning and develop fine motor skills," Vic Jaras, technology coordinator for the Battle Creek (Michigan) Schools, told Education World. "To wait is to deprive the student of a foundational skill."
Once you've made a decision about when to begin keyboarding classes, a host of other problems involved in actually teaching keyboarding arise.
One of the most difficult aspects of computer keyboarding for students is to look mainly at the screen, rather than the fingers, while typing. Teachers experienced in teaching keyboarding make the following suggestions:
Another aspect of teaching keyboarding that can be even more problematic than the mechanics is the grading of student performance. A teacher from a school in which formal keyboarding instruction begins in 5th grade says keyboard practice is graded on accuracy, speed, and "the four:" sitting up; having feet in front, on the floor; looking up more than down; and using the home row keys.
In this class, a speed of less than 15 words per minute on a timed test would earn a C, because that is the speed of normal handwriting. Typically, 25 to 30 words per minute or more earns an A, assuming that accuracy is high and "the four" have been performed.
Other teachers use a more highly specific approach to grading. "I teach a two-semester course for 9th graders in keyboarding and the Internet," says Diane Boyle, a teacher at Ygacio Valley High School in Concord, California. "The grade is based on timed tests, participation, technique, and their assignments on the Internet." Technique is graded according to a checklist worth 20 points:
Students are rated on each item on the checklist, and then scored. From 18 to 20 points earns an A, 16 to 17 points earns a B, and so on. Grading systems like this, teachers maintain, enable students to focus on specific keyboarding skills and to know where they stand in relation to skill development.
Other teachers use a formula to determine students' grades. For example, a middle school student who keyboards 25 words per minute with 90 percent accuracy earns an A.
Virtually all teachers and administrators whose Internet material was reviewed advise emphasizing accuracy over speed.
"Have fun with keyboarding," is the advice many teachers give their colleagues. Here are some ways one teacher suggests to inject a little fun into a keyboarding class:
None of these lighthearted approaches should be graded, but students should be encouraged to maintain as much accuracy as possible in their keyboarding.
According to some in the computer field, voice-recognition systems will someday replace the need for keyboards. So, are keyboarding skills essential? they wonder. Others argue that such systems are a long way off and that schools, which tend to lag technologically behind business, will not have computers equipped with voice-recognition systems for a long time.
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Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
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