How Should Keyboarding Be Taught in Elementary Schools?

In this recent article for Ed Tech magazine, I share our district’s process for bringing keyboarding back into the K-5 setting.

Yes, this was prompted by the upcoming computerized tests next year. But what about the benefits we can gain from these mandates? For example, our fifth graders and their classroom teachers were introduced to Google Drive. The keyboarding teacher infused many tips and tricks for using Google Apps in the classroom while teaching this skill. By the end of the year, our students had greatly improved their keying skills. It most definitely helped that they learned this skill within the context of authentic literacy work, such as collaborative writing.

If you are at the K-5 level, how have you addressed keyboarding in preparation for these tests? Please share in the comments.

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Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

19 thoughts on “How Should Keyboarding Be Taught in Elementary Schools?”

  1. I am the tech mentor at a K-6 school and we chose not to teach keyboarding in isolation. We felt that the time would be better spent completing a writing project during the the time students would be sitting down to practice keyboarding. We introduced Google Docs to all grade levels K-6. We felt the daily practice of publishing and producing writing projects would be a more meaningful use of time and help prepare our students to respond to test questions online. They developed their own system of typing and we noticed their speed did increase as the year progressed.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Christina. While there is room for some drill work, learners do need to see the bigger purpose for this skill.

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  2. I’m a computer teacher and GAFE admin for a K-5 school. I personally teach grades 2-5 (600 student a week). I’m not a fan of teaching typing/keyboarding. I think it’s far better to hone that skill through legitimate use of modern platforms. My feeling is i don’t need an iMac lab to teach keyboarding, give me typewriters of word processors (circa 1990). If I have an iMac lab keyboarding as a distinctly taught skill is a waste of the technology.

    Here’s something I wrote awhile back:
    http://thecasalos.blogspot.com/2012/11/no-i-dont-teach-typing.html

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  3. I’m going to say it’s actually important to teach keyboarding properly, because although students do eventually get faster, the self-invented typist on the QWERTY keyboard will never be very efficient. You can do it with a keyboarding program very easily, and students with computers can do it at home. Being able to touch-type properly means that your thoughts flow quickly. Until they perfect voice-recognition software, it’s the way to go.

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  4. I agree with Delia wholeheartedly. It’s worth the time it takes to get the kids familiar with home row and the rest of the QWERTY keyboard FIRST. Drills are important in the beginning if the goal is true touch typing. Then reinforce those skills with relevant writing projects continuously throughout the school year. I see adults struggling who never learned how to type properly and I don’t want the same for our students. Until we stop using keyboards, we are doing our kids a disservice if we don’t teach them how to use them properly.

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  5. As a techie that was in elementary schools I saw applications that teach touch typing used as a center. That means the children were teaching themselves how to type. The children were in k-2. They can’t teach themselves to touch type. If you are going to buy the applications you need to have commit to having typing taught by a responsible teacher.

    But one of the problems with the idea that you need to teach the children to type is that the technology is changing so fast that the QWERTY keyboard may become obsolete by the time they graduate from high school. Many of the children are learning how to type on their smart phones. They can type very fast with just their thumbs. These changes put the QWERTY keyboard and keyboarding classes in the same place as learning to type on an old IBM Selectric typewriter was for students twenty years ago. Teach them to use technology as the learning tool it can be.

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  6. I am a Technology Integration Specialist and also teach computer science for grades K-7. I introduce keyboarding at The kindergarten level, and every grade I teach gets keyboarding instruction and practice. We do formal lessons for a portion of class and use proper technique while working on other projects and class work. I have had numerous parents, teachers, and students thank me for teaching keyboarding. I do not see keyboards (in some form at least) going away any time soon. They are tools that students use — so it only makes sense to teach them how.

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  7. I teach Technology to children from ages pk-grade 4. There are rules for all tools we use in education: pencils, scissors, blocks, etc. We teach proper use and ettiquette while holding these tools, and the same follows suite for technology tools. I teach keyboarding the first 10 minutes of each class beginning in January of the child’s first grade year. Then we move onto our projects. Children need to learn the proper way to sit at the desk, placement of hands, and where the keys lie so that the risk of injury is lower over time and they become fluid typers. Irregardless of what devices come out, the way of a keyboard will not be eliminated for 2-3 generations, if ever. We would never think of letting a kindergartener hold a pencil in their fist as they write their letters just as I could never responsibly allow a 4th grader who has had me for 4 years or more type a whole fairy tale story with 1 hand. They have learned through weekly keyboard instruction- coupled with theory in practice, that we had better never see them typing with 1 hand!

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  8. Seriously?…Typing? I think one of the largest mistakes in education can be found in the “technology” classrooms. Typing can be taught on a 1951 IBM Selectric typewriter. With all of the amazing new technology opportunities presented to us almost daily, we are teaching how to use a keyboard? Even if you are teaching “more” than that by using reports and projects as the vehicle to learn keyboarding, I still think time could be better spent. A real Computer Science class would teach students K-12 how to program, publish web media on their own sites, or even develop video games. To all of the tech teachers here, visit code.org, scratch.mit.edu, KhanAcademy.org/computing/cs, codecademy.com, or any of the free and amazing web resources that can help you teach your kids what they will really know to prepare them for the future. If you still think Keyboarding is essential, then teach them how to type while learning computer programming.

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  9. I teach junior high students, so by the time they get to me they have some pretty deep rooted habits in regards to keyboarding. I have them do the keyboarding program every day, but if they can type at a high wpm and are accurate, I leave them alone. I have found, however, that no matter how fast and accurate they are in the program, it does not carry over to their writing assignments, etc.

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  10. It is rather alarming that many educators today ‘feel’ or ‘think’ keyboarding skill is a waste of time. The view that keyboarding skill does not have value cannot be farther from the reality. The speed and accuracy of input via a keyboard is rather strongly correlated to writing quality. The are both negative and positive correlations. When students type faster than they handwrite, the quality of writing using computers (word processing) increases. The amount of writing, the number of corrections, the number of drafts/iterations is increased. Conversely, those students that hunt and peck, often much slower than they hand write, do not gain the benefits of writing on a word processor. There is a vast amount of research in this area from decades ago. Just because one thinks it has no value, does not make it so. KB skills are actually more necessary than ever given the amount of time students spend using a keyboard as the primary input method. Hand writing speeds vary, but typically are anywhere between 8-15 wpm. Most students can easily achieve 30wpm in a short space of time. Wood and Freeman (1932) has 2 graders typing up to 70wpm on manual machines. The goal is easily achievable, and will serve younger students well throughout their academic careers and beyond. The value of KB skill has nothing to do with computer skills, but the ability to use technology effectively and efficiently. Nothing to do with ‘programming’ or other tech skills. Teachers perhaps need a reset on very misguided assumptions when they feel, think, but at the end of the day, don’t really have any grounding in the research or application of the skill. The idea behind KB skills is a catalyst for more productive use of technology and learning gains, such as in writing quality.

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    1. Haha, why would you put ‘programming’ in quotes? Like students aren’t actually programming, or what?

      Thanks for helping prove the points in my previous post. Quoting a study from 1932 doesn’t seem a little outdated to you? How different is the technology of today compared with that of 1932? Think about keyboards on touch screens and how many schools are going 1:1 with iPads (hardly any schools buy an accompanying physical keyboard). Or, what about the schools that can’t afford iPads and have implemented a BYOD program where students are typing on the even smaller touch screens found on their cell phones.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1 million more computer science positions than there will be qualified people to fill them. If you can get 2nd graders to type up to 70 wpm, why would we need to continue teaching them solely KB skills through 12th grade?

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say we need to totally eliminate keyboarding from schools. What I am saying, is that we should be teaching real computer science classes and not solely keyboarding. For example, I have been brought in to help the tech teachers switch over to become computer science teachers at my school district. This means we will be teaching computer programming for all students in grades K-8 (we are only elementary). However, as their Bell Work, students spend the first 5 minutes of class every day learning and practicing keyboarding skills. Through keyboarding for the Bell Work only, all of the students from my 2013-2014 classes were able to meet the state speed and accuracy typing standards. Therefore, why spend the entire 45 minute block on typing when we could be pushing our students to learn amazing things like programming?

      To be honest, Professor Taormino, I’m a bit disappointed that someone with your credentials would take the position that you did. Then again, if you haven’t been in a K12 classroom since before the 1990s, or not at all, it would be hard to formulate an informed opinion. However, I totally agree that more research needs to be done and it looks like you could be the person that does it.

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  11. You have completely missed the point of the discussion. This is not a zero sum game, but rather a discussion of KB skills. KB skills are important to support learning goals. Again, nothing to do with programming skills. That is a different argument. Keep focused here. The issue is whether keyboarding skills are important. Clearly they are. Teachers that sadly ignore all previous research and how technology is connected to learning achievement are responsible for the uneven results of technology integration. It does not sound like you have much of a grounding in the field of educational technology.

    No one including myself advocates only teaching KB. But KB is the entry point for effective use of technology in schools. Technology is a vehicle. Students must operate the vehicle most effectively and efficiently. Typing remains the primary method of content creation. Again, plenty of research over decades and decades. The charge of dated research shows a fundamental lack of understanding of a long lineage of seminal research that contributes to the body of knowledge. Very scary to me as a leader in the field that we have teachers so misaligned with basic tenets of learning. By the way, I do teach at every level of education, and see the misuse of technology because of misconceptions that become ingrained in planning. Check out the LAUSD iPad mess.

    iPads are routinely being tossed by schools because students need to use keyboards. Look at LAUSD and other schools. They are now planning to use devices with keyboards such as Chrome Books and Hybrid tablets. Common Core requires KB entry to write paragraphs. The use of LCD keyboards is a typical shoehorn effect promoted by only those with little real understanding of learning technology. We see this shoehorn effect all of the time in education. You should learn from the mistakes of the past as not to repeat them over again just because you think something is a good idea, based on little but your own anecdotal analysis. If you want to contribute to the body of knowledge, you cannot just guess what is needed, or discard information you deem as no longer relevant. No field of study could persist with that type of attitude.

    Hopefully, you are able to learn something from this thread. Those who move forward in any field are able to assimilate information from many perspectives, and from qualified sources. I hope that you expand your field of understanding to better serve students. Good luck.

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    1. Wow, I must have hit a nerve. I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to offend you or anyone. I’d love to meet with you or webcam some time. I’m glad you brought up the iPad issue. Please read my post carefully, I was in no way condoning the use of iPads in education. I was merely stating that many schools use iPads, so we might want to think about that when we talk about KB skills. I never wanted to use iPads in the classroom and knew LAUSD was making a huge mistake back when they announced their iPad initiative. I was the one who convinced my district to buy Chromebooks instead of iPads (one of the reasons being the physical keyboard). Also, again, I never said we should abolish teaching keyboarding either. I also totally agree that research is essential. I’m not really sure what you disagree with about what I said, or what you would like me to learn specifically from this thread.
      The only thing I will disagree on is when you say you cannot just guess what is needed. I so wish that I had current research to back up my decision to teach computer science with typing as only a warm-up. However, there are just not that many up to date studies in the field of educational technology. It is very frustrating when writing papers for my Masters in Educational Technology. Even you used research from almost 100 years ago. I don’t think our students can afford to wait around for the research to prove learning computer programming is good for them.

      Seriously though, I would love to webcam and chat about the future of EdTech. As you said, “Those who move forward in any field are able to assimilate information from many perspectives.” I am coming from the generation that was born in the mid 80s and grew up with technology. I would love to hear from a true EdTech expert that grew up in another generation.

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