When or do we teach typing?

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtI have had a few conversations the past couple of days on what is the thinking on typing skills and teaching typing to students. Most schools that I know of do not have a typing curriculum like we would have a writing curriculum. If you do….that is fantastic and I’d love to see it, but to my knowledge most schools relay on teachers to “fit in” typing with students when and were they can.

Then comes the other issue that students today have grown up with technology and computers. By the time students are 6 and in our schools most of them have had numerous hours with computer devices. Whether it be a computer keyboard or a Nintendo DS, they are growing up being wired to input into a machine. If we start teaching them typing in middle school are we to late? Have they already developed habits that work for them? Last year I saw a 9th grade student who had one finger on each row. Example: Left hand: EDC Right hand: IJN and could type somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 words per minute. When I asked where she learned to type like that she just shrugged and said “I don’t know…it just works for me.”

This isn’t our generation

Our generation did not grow up with computers. Marc Prensky would classify me as a “Digital Native” (by 1 year and proud of it!) yet I learned to type on a typewriter in high school. Well, half the time anyway. We did learn how to use a computer…Macintosh Classic….but we were not able to take a timed test on them because we could “cheat” and use the back space key.

This generation not only has grown up with the backspace key but is use to having spell check and a dictionary at their fingertips every time they write anything. The world has changed and I’m not sure our curriculum has caught up with it.

My Belief

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtSo here’s my belief and my belief along as I’ve watched elementary students closely over the past four years. We should not be teaching typing as we learned it…home row keys, etc. Instead we should be exposing students to the keyboard as much as possible and allow them to develop typing techniques that work for them.

The two pictures in this post are of third graders just two days ago as we opened up laptops for the first time and were exploring programs…one happened to be Type to Learn Jr.. As you can see they have already developed there own typing techniques and continue to find and explore ways that typing works for them.

I see it much the same way we learn cursive. We were all exposed to proper cursive in school yet I would bet not one of us follows the proper techniques of cursive writing today. We all develop our own style that works for us. We were exposed to the cursive form enough to understand how it works and then we create a style that works….making each one of our signatures unique and different.

So here’s what I believe:

  • We should expose students to the keyboard as much as possible!
  • Every student starting in Kindergarten should be exposed to a keyboard as often as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferred.
  • In 1st grade the focus would be to have student use two hands on the keyboard.
  • By 3rd grade typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaces with keyboard time (cursive writing is an art form and should be part of art…..my opinion and my opinion only!).
  • By 5th grade students should be required to turn in at least one type written assignment a week and spend no less then 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

I talked to a couple 6th grade teachers last week who both told me that they only have students type assignments to be handed in. That they have not accepted hand-written work for two years now.

What skills are we teaching in our elementary schools to prepare students for their future education?

Of course all of this is probably for nothing as if I was being futuristic I would talk about including texting and mobile device and touch screen typing. But then again….seeing that 30% of the 3rd graders at our school already have a cell phone…they probably know more about texting then we could teach them anyway. ;)

I’d love to get your feedback on this and the policy your school has or what your beliefs are when it comes to teaching typing to students.

40 Comments

  1. I don’t believe that simple exposure to a keyboard equates to competent typing skills. That’s like saying exposure or access to a piano keyboard equates to the ability to play it! My kids have been using computers since age two, but they are still poor typists. I do agree that middle school is too late to tech typing, though.

    Personally, I took typing in high school, but I still use my own modified version. I became a fast typist out of necessity in college – not because I was typing papers, but because I was using VMS phone to chat with guys. I had a lot to say, so I had to learn to type quickly! I’m sure the same goes for kids who text and learn to manipulate their keyboards rapidly. I don’t know how to translate that eagerness into typing proficiency, though.

    As for cursive writing, I do think it’s necessary to learn to write one’s own signature. But the amount of time that is spent teaching cursive writing in 2nd and 3rd grade is completely out of line with its applicability in later years. At least a rudimentary exposure to proper typing position and technique at that age, even if not completely adopted, would be a MUCH more practical use of instructional time.

    • I agree as Howard writes below that exposure is not the only influence in learning to type and type quickly. As you both point out you had an authentic experience that led you to ‘want’ to type quickly. In middle school we are seeing that as students understand the faster they can type the faster they are done with homework. How do we equate this to a 3rd graders? Maybe you’re right, maybe we need to get them into chat rooms where the conversation forces you to want to/learn to type quickly.

    • I’ve been using the computer since I was three, and taught myself how to type.

      (I am 14 now.)

      Children are capable of teaching themselves, like I had. Basically, I instant chat a lot and need a typing skill in order to reply to messages quickly.

      I can type 98 words per minute on average, and that is NOT a lie.

      However, my 8th grade Technology teacher is trying to force me to learn Traditional typing. Traditional typing is by NO means the “correct way” of typing. It’s just the most simple way to teach somebody.

      Anyways.

      She threatened to give me a zero everyday in Technology class until I learned to type Traditional.

      I refuse. For all we know, Traditional typing could be the real reason behind carpal tunnel. My way of typing may even be a solution; but you can’t tell some teachers that.

      They don’t believe in your dreams anyways.

  2. Jeff, I think that when students have an authentic reason to keyboard, they will do it. For me, the idea of providing students with the exposure is certainly the first step, but I would add the notion of instant messaging. If students can IM as part of the school day around an educational topic, they will see the need to type at or close to conversational speed. To me, where the fingers go on the keyboard is not relevant. what is important is can the student type at a speed that is at least conversational in IM. As I began to type in the IM environment, my speed increased dramatically, as did my accuracy.

    • I agree students need an authentic reason to type and that reason changes over the years. The photos used in this post were students playing a game. They do not see the game as a typing game, but rather as just a fun game that they get more points the faster they type…to them that is authentic. To a middle schooler that authentic reason might be that the faster they can type the sooner get their homework done. But I also believe that exposing students to the keyboard as early as kindergarten is critical as it builds those pathways in the brain that we know will later come in to play when they have an authentic reason to be faster. That’s my thinking anyway. :)

  3. If your logic is sound it should also apply to just about everything: playing a flute, piano, guitar or any musical instrument, basketball, football, throwing a baseball, gymnastics, cheerleading, reading, science equipment, driving a car, sewing, cash register, cooking, welding, snow skiing, a doctor or dentist, radiologist, etc. Many young people learn these skills by observing, then trying to duplicate. Imagine if they were duplicating someone with an off-the-wall original style. It works on the elementary level, but to become truly proficient at a skill it is earier with instruction, direction and correction. That is why we have teachers, coaches, as well as facilitators. I am impressed with the girl who can type 60 words per minute in her own style, but I am more impressed with a full class of 30 students typing 50 words per minute, without looking at their hands, as each is composing an original document. Final note–as a teacher, coach and facilitator who believes fundamentals are important, I am frustrated at a store, waiting for a young clerk (18 years old) trying to enter my personal data, using his or her original keyboarding style and taking what seems to be all day to enter simple data, asking me several times how to spell my name or eyes glancing several times from my license to his/her hands on the keyboard and then to the screen.
    Suggestion: learn the skill correctly before adjusting to one’s own unique style. Why are techies so afraid of a student taking six weeks, 30 minutes per day, to learn how to type in the style that most proficient typist use? There is no harm; it will not stiffled their learning ability or creativity; and it may be within their grasp to type 70, 80, 100, or more WPM.

    • Yes, proper technique is key to speed, accuracy and ownership of the task. The truly proficient in any discipline use properly honed skills.
      When we begin letter recognition in Kindergarten we show keyboard placement of that letter. (Letters are not learned alphabetically.)
      Proper keyboarding begins in 3rd grade and the expectation for proficiency increases through 4th and 5th.

    • While that is true with other skills, the main difference between typing as a skill and learning how to throw a baseball is that the former is evolving overtime. Technology is constantly changing and who is to say how our keyboards are designed now, will be how they will be designed in 10 years. Moreover, with voice recognition software, who is to say we will even have a keyboard? Technology is changing at such a rapid rate, now you can actually select keyboards (through touch recognition software) that work for you!

    • I so totally agree with you. I teach computer applications and it is becoming increasingly difficult because 2/3 of the class can only hunt and peck at a rate of 16-18 wpm and the other 1/3, who know the keyboard, type at 40+. This is happening because kids are starting to use the computer in elementary school where the teacher tells them to use the CAP Lock to make capital letters. Imagine a high school student typing their name and going back and forth to the CAP Lock. Almost no one knows how to use the Shift Key and they don’t want to relearn that in 9th grade. Middle schools use cute teaching programs, but the teachers don’t teach. They put the kids in the lessons and say complete these and don’t really care how they are done, just so they get done. If I got paid for the number of times in a day that I hear, “I hate computers,” I’d be rich. They hate them because they are so inept. I asked my students why they are so slow, and they tell me that their MS teachers just let them play games and do not teach the proper technique. These same students then try to get jobs where there are standards and cannot qualify for them or they get clerical jobs and kill all of us with their poor technique and waste our time. This is a big pet peeve of mine. Anything worth doing is worth doing right!

    • you took the words right out of my mouth! Jeff says many of us no longer use the cursive we were taught, but acknowledges the teaching of it, so I’m not sure why he is against actually teaching typing skills to kids first (especially if the teaching can happen through exposure to a game).

  4. This is a very interesting and highly relevant discussion. Calvin, your suggestion of a “6 week course” seems attainable. At what age would you propose a student did this, and which typing program would you recommend?

  5. While I agree that students left to their own devices usually figure out a fast way to produce what they want to produce, I would not say that the speed of production is the only consideration involved. It may well be that using edc & ijn as “home keys” will allow great speed…What will the predicted incidence of RSI for such positioning be?
    I am not assuming that the asdf… home keys necessarily prevent RSI (for that matter, the whole QWERTY setup needs considerable review and more research), but matters need to be carefully considered in terms not merely of speed of production but several factors involved in long-term use. (and no, I’m not a medical doctor or chiropractor :)).

  6. We’ve had similar conversations in my school. I teach in the high school now, but when I was a 6th grade writing teacher most of my students already had fast typing skills. Cursive writing plays a role in the writing process in that it allows the writer to get ideas on the page faster, a little more in line with the speed of thought. Typing serves the same function when the writer can focus on the ideas and not the search for the right key to push. I advocate teaching typing because it is a fast and efficient way to type. A colleague of mine who is my age uses only two fingers to type, but she has to look at the keyboard. I can type just as fast as she can without looking at what I am doing. This makes it easy to scan the classroom during a study hall and make sure that everyone is relatively on task :) Seriously though, I’m glad that I plowed through practicing the technical skill in order to work efficiently today. For me this is similar to learning multiplication tables. Effort spent of lower order thinking pays off when tackling higher order thinking tasks.

    • I appreciate J Clark Evans’ comment on the relevance of teaching cursive writing. As an elementary teacher, it is painful for me to watch 4th and 5th grade children who labor through writing when asked to do simple response in a short period of time. I agree that teaching cursive is still necessary.

      Furthermore, I think that it if we are expecting students to turn in typed assignments, we need to teach them the tools they need to complete the assignment. If we take the time teach them how to write a topic sentence and a five paragraph essay, we should also teach them proper typing technique. The time it will take to teach typing is less than the time the students will pay off. The less time they spend on hunting and pecking, the more time they will have to devote to expressing their ideas clearly and creatively.

  7. I took typing class in high school (early ’90s) but middle school would be more appropriate now. By high school (prior to entering college) students do need to know how to type properly and quickly not just hunt and peck. I agree with Kathy D. technique is key. Maybe students don’t need an entire semester like we used to, but it should at least be a major module in a required computer curriculum.

    Good print and cursive are still important though. It’s part of developing fine motor skills as well as crucial for success later in life. Like it or not people can be judged poorly if they have poor handwriting.

  8. This is a multi-layered post and deals with the subject of the whys ifs and hows of teaching typing and handwriting. Some kids will work out the most effective method for them (with either)- others benefit from instruction but then will adapt. Research shows that we use extra stress by not holding a pencil correctly- how I wish someone had corrected mine! We need to instruct at the beginning and provide extra support for those who struggle- I think. Great discussion. I have a big problem with computer time being used for typing practice- and when I was a classroom teacher, hated teaching handwriting.

  9. In my humble opinion…
    We teach keyboard skills (ie typing) officially in 3rd through 5th grade. However, we also use forums,moodle, and a variety of Web2.0 tools with the students so while they are given some instruction in “correct” techniques, they really develop proficiency through application.

    We also strive to integrate technology with K to 2 and have found netbooks perfect for their little hands.

    We do not give grades for handwriting (ie cursive or printing instruction) or keyboarding (typing). The proof is in the application.Use these skills …and lets get on with learning.

    Because we are 1:1 in 6 to 8 we want the students to have a certain proficiency before they get there…but over the next 2 years we will be 1:1 3 to 8…. so that will change things.

    • I definitely fall in with the “we need to teach proper keyboarding technique” camp. Other posters have mentioned the reasoning and useful analogies to learning other skills such as playing a musical instrument.

      I wanted to post here as Barbara mentioned Moodle. I have created a traditional typing practice system as a Moodle course. The students start with the home keys and work their way from there.

      It is freely available from my website at link to christianthompson.com

      You can contact me through my website if you have any questions about the course or how to use it.

  10. Hi Jeff,

    Nice can of worms you opened up!

    Here is what I think many people forget. Traditional typing instruction was about making good “transposers” – people who could convert handwriting to type as fast as possible.

    Today’s keyboarders are not “transposers,” but “composers” and need to type only as fast as they can think. (For me that is about 2 words per minute!)

    The emphasis on keyboarding needs to be on ergonomics and to build to typing speeds of 15-25 wpm, not the business ed dept’s goal of 90-120wpm.

    Hope all is well at ISB!

    Doug

  11. Great points Jeff. I completely agree with typing vs handwriting. Handwriting is an art form. I would like to see the studies of how handwriting improves academic achievement. Traditionally, why do teachers teach handwriting? So that they can write more and more legibly by a pen and paper approach. The thing is, in today’s society, most people DON’T write using pen and paper. They use computers.

  12. I do agree that far too much emphasis is placed in handwriting in schools. Virtually all real-world writing is done on the computer. However, Jeff, for once I disagree with you. People generally do not pick up typing skills on their own regardless of how much practice they get. I can speak from personal experience, after spending a good part of the day on the keyboard for ten years I was still typing with two fingers: slow and inaccurate to the point where it was hindering me. Some years ago I decided to use a week’s vacation and sat there 8 hours a day with Mavis Beacon. End result I touch-type with 10 fingers (OK 8 fingers now). This has made my life easier. Typing is absolutely the exception to the rule. We sit our kids down in third grade for 8 weeks intensive boring, old fashioned drill, but this sets them up with a skill for life. It works.
    Chris, AIS Vienna

  13. In a school where students don’t have one-to-one computing, using the computer lab so that students can learn keyboard skills is a waste of a valuable resource and I’d rather see the technology being used to create, collaborate and share.
    Given that kids are already high level users why would we need to provide them with 15 minutes a day of keyboard familiarisation?
    While many of us have devleoped a style of typing that allows us to type moderately quickly, I do believe that ‘correct’ typing skills are important. You can’t assume that all students will somehow develop useful keyboarding just by using a keyboard. But, I don’t believe the school has time to provide keyboarding lessons. At my school I encourage parents to get typing tutor programs and for students to do typing skills at home. It needs to be daily and we just can’t afford that time in school.
    Handwriting is not just a skill it also helps younger students develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Using a pen/pencil will always be a required skill (drawing; IWB anyone?). Don’t stop teacing handwriting, but we perhaps don’t need to spend so much time on it in the middle primary grades.

  14. It takes children and adults alike a little under 3 weeks/ 15 minutes a day to learn how to ten-finger type. My children learnt in 10 days and they now type with perhaps only 8-9 fingers and do not necessarily type faithfully as the typing program taught them. They adopted their method along the way. It is a wonderful thing to see how they type as quickly as they think, and certainly faster than they can write.

    There are enough free typing online programs out there for parents, teachers to use. I would suggest learning typing as a two week homework assignment or a vacation project.

    It is not only important to type with ten fingers, it is also important to type “blind” or without looking at the keyboard. Teaching children to type the ten-finger method before they are using the computer daily, is, in my opinion a waste of time. It is not doing the lessons that will help them, but practicing daily that will make them accomplished type-ers.

    (I’m not arguing to change handwritten tests or assignments for typed. That is a completely other thing. Knowing to use a keyboard properly is comparable to knowing how to play another instrument if you are a music lover.)

  15. I was faced with some keyboarding questions a year or two ago. If you would like to visit the wiki where I gathered all the info, please click on this link: link to teachtouchtyping.wetpaint.com. However, times have changed a bit as well as the amount of keyboarding devices that kids use. Still, I think you will find some good info there.
    Good luck!

  16. I tend to agree with you, Jeff. I never took typing in high school and have done quite nicely with my own method!

  17. Sounds like most of the commenters are interested in turning out a whole generation of secretaries and transcribers (not that’s there’s anything wrong with SOME people doing that with their lives).

    In 2009 you can enter information into a computer using voice commands and touch screens without using a keyboard at all. By the time today’s 4th graders reach high school graduation they will look back at the fuddy-duddies who taught them keyboarding with disdain – and they’ll be right. After spending two months in middle school doing incredibly boring keyboarding drills, my daughter stated “I never want to take another ‘computer class’ as long as I live.”

    Excellent, way to suck the joy of creative computing out of my child. I’m now working to try to undo some of the damage done. I’ll be home schooling my children with regard to technology skills – now I’m starting to wonder about everything else as well.

  18. Just throwing this out there for consideration…I used to think it was important to teach kids keyboarding skills, then I saw the results of an application on Facebook, “How Fast Can You Type A to Z”. My daughters and their friends who are “texters” average 5 seconds or less for speed while me, the traditional “transcriber” could only get about 10 seconds. For what it’s worth!

  19. My 2nd grade daughter’s teacher is using School World and my daughter has posted two replies on the class blog. Typing was so slow that I really had to fight the urge to type it for her (and I lost the battle toward the end). Typing speed matters and some form of instruction is needed.

  20. I learnt touch typing in high school many years ago and I often have people looking over my shoulder watching my type on my laptop and commenting that they wish they could type as fast as I do. My son is in Grade 4 and has asked me to teach him to touch type so that he can be more proficient on the keyboard. I intend to do this during the summer holidays (we live in Australia). It’s high time that keyboarding skills were taught in primary school. It is just as important as handwriting. It’s a skill that will go with them through life.

  21. Jeff, I have read research that supports some of your ideas at the elementary level. Exposure is the key at that age, not learning the touch system yet. I would caution the work load of turning in typed papers before knowing the touch system. If they are too long it could get kids to hate the keyboard all together. I remember writing a good paper in school and then spending an hour typing up one page of work–not fun.

    I am now a high school business and computer technology teacher who would prefer for my students to all already know the touch system. About half do not know it at all. I therefore teach many sections of Keyboarding at the high school level, as a recommended course before Computer Applications. Until a couple years ago I constantly had to break students’ “bad habits” of “pecking.” Now keyboard covers do much of the work for me. I know that it would be easier to teach some students the touch system if they never had learned their own system, but this is unreasonable to expect. Students will be exposed to the keyboard at a young age. Also though, many elementary students lack the necessary coordination and fine motor skills to successfully use the touch system. That is why most districts do not really teach it until middle school.

    The biggest tool that I can suggest for teaching students proper typing methods is a keyboard cover, so they cannot look at their keys. Keyboards were designed for the touch system, and it is the best (most efficient) method of typing. I argue that students do break their own habits and adopt the touch system. In the long run they will be more accurate, efficient, and use less energy.

  22. I agree with exposing young students to the computer as much as possible. As a fourth grade teacher, I am surprised by the advances that my students make throughout the year. I have students creating websites, getting on facebook, and blogging on their spare time. At nine years old, some of my students are as advanced in technology as I am. My school recently started all day Kindergarten and scheduled 40 minutes a day of computers. Though there is an aid in the room, the teacher is the main support during that time. The kindergarteners are learning how to take care of a computer, turn it on and off, log in, and use the keyboard. With all of the new video games and computer games coming out, I think it is important to keep students up to date. As most of the other posts commented, I also learned keyboarding in high school through a required course. When I started the class I was a terrible on the keyboard, but the more I did it the better I got. This is the same thing goes for elementary students, the more they do something the better they will get. Whether they use the computer to type their stories or get on to play a game, it is the repetition of the using the computer that is going to make them feel more comfortable using it.

  23. I teach our lower school (grades 3-6) computer lab. I only see each class once a week for the entire year. A few “kinks” I have run across is that the 3rd and 4th graders hands aren’t big enough to use proper technique. Also, I can’t spend the entire 45 minutes on keyboarding, but since I only see them once a week, it takes be about 1-2 months to go through the entire keyboard. Meanwhile, I have teachers asking me to help them out on projects, but the students are slow in typing because they haven’t mastered the keyboard. It’s kind of a catch 22. I too see poor techniques already developed in 4th & 5th grade. I believe initially, the students need to be taught proper technique to learn the keys, but just as we all have our our ‘hand writing” style, we are develop our own typing style.

    • Denise,

      You have some students who do not have large enough hands to properly type. What do you do? Are they frustrated? I just started a section of Keyboarding last week and one of my students has a wrapped finger for a week, and another of my students has only one arm. I am thinking much about appropriately accommodating these students. Do you have any advice?

      • We talk about proper hand placement with 3rd grade. I try to get them to have proper placement, but I don’t make a big deal if they can’t get it. I know there are keyboards out there for kids with small hands. By the time they get to 5th or 6th grade, it isn’t much of a problem. If I have a student with an injury, they are exempt from using proper technique. The child with one arm, I would let him/her figure out what works best for them.

  24. I teach first grade and I have had great success with teaching my students how to type. I am fortunate that the Kindergarten teachers in my building frequently bring their students to the computer lab. Even though they are not formally taught how to type, they benefit greatly from the time spent in front of the computer. It is always obvious to me which of my students have computers at home and which of them have had little to now technological experience. I use the typing program “Type To Learn Jr.”. My students love this program. It is very kid friendly and it is almost as if they forget that they are learning how to type. Many ask me if we can “play that really fun computer game again”. I believe teaching students how to type any time after 1st grade is too late. Bad habits will be formed and it will be much harder for the students to “re-train” themselves on the keyboard. By the end of my school year my first graders type a very short paragraph on Microsoft Word. When they print it out they are so proud of themselves. Many of them tell me it is their favorite assignment of the school year. Overall, when kids are having fun and are engaged they are able to learn, usually much more than is expected. Typing in first grade is possible- the 2nd grade teachers will be thanking you!

  25. As a third-grade teacher for over a decade who specialized in cursive writing and thinks it’s important, I actually would not have a problem with REPLACING cursive instruction with keyboard instruction in touch typing. I have found touch-typing to be the number one skill I ever learned that I use every day in every facet of my life, and in every job I’ve ever held (as well as daily in my personal life). The problem is that students are being left far too long without this instruction. Trying to break habits long-established when they get to middle school is just not going to work, any more than changing a long-established pencil grip when a student arrives in grade three (that has to be taught correctly in Kindergarten).

    Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas
    elementaryteacher.wordpress.com

  26. I like your analogy that typing is like handwriting in that we ultimately develop our own style. I think that you are right that so many young children now come to school with their own keyboarding skills. I would agree that early and repeated exposure to the keyboard is ideal. I really like the idea of replacing handwriting with keyboard time. As with any other skill however, there may be a place for teaching students the old typing methods. Certainly many students will develop their own efficient hunt and peck but some may benefit from the old method. Students with memory difficulties may need a strategy to help master the keyboard. Though hunt and peck methods may be quick, it is certainly helpful to be able to type in the traditional way. There is no doubt that 5th graders would certainly benefit from 120 minutes per week on a keyboard. However, educators are once again confronted by limited resources that impinge upon our ideals.

    • Agreed….I think we teach keyboarding like we teach math. There are multiple ways to solve the same problem. What if we teach different ways of typing and allow students to practice and learn the one that is most comfortable to them. Just a thought!

    • I am in the same boat as Denise. We see our kids for 45 minutes a week and are expected to collaborate with the teachers to complete projects. One of my team members takes 1/2 the class period for the little ones to practice. I disagree because of my personal experience in college. I took summer typing courses, but I wasnt proficient until college, when I had to type multiple papers a week.
      I believe that we should expose students to the keyboard, but not test them. I made a song about it so the students could sing it to find a letter. Its to the tune of head, shoulders, knees and toes. THey loved it. used it with grades 1/2/3.

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