What is the role of keyboarding instruction in the classroom—especially the elementary classroom? Over the past few years, as one-to-one devices become more widespread and accessible to students at younger grade levels, this question has become more and more pertinent. I know our own school has struggled with student keyboarding skills over the past few years.
Three main issues we grapple with as educators.
First, keyboarding skills are essentially a must-have skill in today’s world—I don’t feel as though that is in dispute. But students are being required to use it an early age, probably too early developmentally. Current common core standards require students to keyboard starting in third grade, but are students' fine motor skills even able to perform well enough to make this possible? Because the act of writing is so complex, when another complex task like keyboarding is added to the mix, the cognitive load is too much for most students. The result is either an essay with some decent ideas that is poorly (and probably slowly) typed, or an essay that is typed well while lacking in content.
The second problem is that most students start learning to “type” on a phone or tablet with their thumbs. Even the term “keyboarding” is like “dialing” a phone—now that technology has changed, we don’t have physical keys anymore. For those of us over the age of 40, that seems hard to comprehend. I know I prefer to type on real keys instead of on a phone or tablet, but do our students feel the same way? And if not, are we forcing them to learn a skill just because we prefer it and not because it is absolutely necessary for their future?
Finally, more than once I have heard keyboarding skills dismissed as something that is being phased out in our world. Consider the shorthand writing that was taught in the 1950s, but no longer relevant. My own children will often use voice-to-text to write in their devices, and then go back later to proofread it.
So, what is a school to do? State tests, at least in our state, currently require students to write responses on a keyboard and submit electronically. Because part of the score comes from the writing conventions, it is critical that students know how to capitalize, punctuate, and edit their work. If these assessments drive what we do as educators, the answer is a simple “yes.”
The school’s philosophy and approach to teaching keyboarding is important. Here are some questions that every school and educator should consider:
Do we teach it?
The answer could be contingent on staff, resources, or the philosophy of the district. I do know there are visionary educators who feel it is a dying skill and a waste of time for our students. For the sake of the students, it is critical to have a plan in place for them to be successful—either building on skills they acquire over time or having other tools in place to use to compose.
If we do teach it, at what age should we start?
Our school has moved to a “teach it as they need it” philosophy. For us, composing on a keyboard for a state test starts at third grade, so this is the point at which we start keyboarding skills. Every state and district would probably have a different answer for this, but other considerations include the size of the keyboard for the student and how much he or she uses it throughout their day—these may factor into how appropriate it is for them to be using it intensely to keyboard.
How much time do we dedicate to it?
This is really the hardest question to answer. Since keyboarding is a skill that requires muscle memory, like any other repetitive task, it requires frequent practice. Because of our schedule, we have students keyboarding once a week. This really isn’t frequent enough to develop good skills, but we feel it is better than no practice at all. We could not allow more frequent practice without giving up important time dedicated to other subject areas.
Here are a few more questions that I don’t have any answers to, but would also be worth a discussion:
- What would happen if we didn’t teach keyboarding at all?
- Is “voice to text” an option, and is composing that way even good for students?
- What research supports keyboarding instruction and at which grade levels?
As you can see, the issue is complex and probably not on the front burner compared to other topics in education. No solutions are ever found without some reflection and discussion, so these questions can stimulate thinking to help students produce better outcomes.
How does your school handle teaching keyboarding?
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