Last week I was asked to work with several people at the district office to rethink/reshape the keyboarding course offered in our middle schools. Is keyboarding instruction becoming irrelevant? During the past two weeks we just distributed almost 6000 iPads to our high school students, who are a generation of texters. Those who have not yet mastered traditional QWERTY keyboarding probably never will! When I was in high school, my dad (who worked for IBM since the days of punched card computers) insisted that I take two years of typing class. I can’t remember any other subject upon which he was so adamant, but he said that no matter what my career choice would be, typing would always be a marketable skill.
With the proliferation of tablets, touch screens, voice-recognition software, and speech-to-text apps, it seems that we may be moving toward the end of the QWERTY keyboard era. It has serviced us well for almost 140 years. Jeff Utecht stated in The Thinking Stick:
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.
He further goes on to say that he believes:
- 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.
In my district the current practice is that all 2nd graders are supposed to be receiving keyboard instruction and practice through the use of portable Writers at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week. The students love using the Writers and eventually are able to use them to write stories. By the end of the school year I am able to see lots of growth in students’ keyboarding skills, but unfortunately when they return to school the next fall many students haven’t retained those skills. Even so, I’m glad these students are receiving this exposure to the use of a keyboard. I predict, however, that once these devices expire in the next couple of years, no other provision will be made for keyboard instruction.
I think it is a good thing that our district is considering dropping formal keyboarding instruction in middle schools and replacing it with a much broader Challenge Based Learning experience. In today’s world most middle school students already have some form of keyboarding that works for them with or without the use of home row keys. I like the idea of these students having the opportunity to use technology for inquiry, research, and product-development. It’s a much better use of their time than keyboarding, and it’s only a matter of time before keyboard instruction becomes a thing of the past.