Typing and handwriting can be fairly contentious issues in education. While there are a lot of opinions on the details, it really comes down to being able to communicate your ideas clearly.
When you create a written text, you want to be able to clearly transfer the thoughts from your head onto paper or a screen. Sometimes this is for an audience, and other times it’s just for your own benefit.
In this digital age where people are communicating via computers, tablets, phones, as well as in traditional means, fluency and adaptation are key. You need to be able to pick up a pen to jot down your shopping list, while also being able to put together an email in a reasonable length of time.
Typing has evolved. Some of you might remember classrooms full of typewriters or bulky computers when you were at school. Now typing is more than just finding the home row on a standard qwerty keyboard; it might also mean using predictive text, voice technology software, or virtual keyboards.
Whatever the future holds, it would be hard to deny that students need a basic level of competence with both handwriting and typing. The worst case scenario is not being able to do either particularly well!
So how do we achieve this?
Hopefully students are learning to write from the time they enter school. There is a lot of research that stresses the importance of picking up a pencil and learning to write in the traditional way.
Often the debate around handwriting concerns:
- the standard of handwriting expected and the time spent teaching/enforcing this
- whether joined/cursive writing should be taught
- handwriting stamina including whether assessments should be handwritten.
When it comes to typing, it’s also clear that students need some skills in this area.
Using a hunt and peck method requires a lot of brainpower. We want our students to be thinking about how to convey their ideas, not wondering where the letter “s” is.
The fact is though, people generally end up gaining some sort of fluency with handwriting. It might be messy but most adults are not super slow writers.
Is the same true for typing? I don’t think so.
Example: I’ve sat in front of a number of doctors who are looking up and down from the keyboard to their screen as they slowly type notes with two fingers. These are highly intelligent people. You’d think if typing came “naturally” then they would have picked up a better method (just sharing a general analogy here; we know many doctors are proficient typists).
Surely it would be better for professionals like these to be spending more time listening and relating to you while considering your medical situation, rather than trying to hunt for letters?
So here’s my point: a basic standard of keyboarding skills is required and it doesn’t always come naturally. That being said, I can touch type very well, yet was self taught.
How Do People Learn To Type?
How people get to the point of being able to touch type is something that interests me. I learnt “by doing” while others learnt through formal lessons, however, we both got to the same place.
A few years back I ran a poll on my blog asking people how they became proficient at touch typing. The results were interesting.
While it’s not a huge study with only 82 votes, you can see that a significant proportion of people who can touch type did learn without formal lessons.
I do think the skill of typing is so important that we can’t chance the fact that students will learn themselves. Some tuition and practice is essential.
Eight Tips for Teaching Typing
- Find devices to use: If you don’t have enough computers for everyone, maybe typing practice can be a station in a rotation. You don’t have to have the newest computers either. Linda Yollis’ students practise their typing on an old set of old AlphaSmarts!
- Schedule time each week: I used to try to slot in a 30 minute session each week for working on keyboarding. Some people prefer to do a few minutes each day. Whatever the case, make it regular.
- Include tuition and practice: Give your students a mix of formal tuition in typing (like finger placement) as well as practice time.
- Have ongoing authentic avenues for typing: Even if you’re only formally covering keyboarding once a week, you’ll want to be giving the students more regular opportunities to practise in an authentic way, e.g. blogging, emailing, typing up Google Docs etc. This can be so powerful!
- Involve parents: It can be a great idea to tell parents about the resources you’re using to learn keyboarding at school and encourage students to use them at home too.
- Track progress: You may be amazed at how quickly students progress once they have some regular typing sessions. You probably don’t want to constantly assess. I used to do it about four times a year. Some programs have inbuilt tests or you could use something like https://www.typingtest.com or https://www.typing.com/typingtest
- Celebrate: Don’t forget to stop and reflect. Celebrate your students’ achievements. You might even want to tell their parents about their great progress.
- Make it fun! Luckily, learning to type doesn’t have to be a chore. There are lots of online resources and games that your students will probably love.
When to Learn Typing?
Writing with a pencil is the natural way to begin, however, I think it’s unrealistic to wait until middle or upper primary school to begin any typing instruction. After all, most students now enter school already familiar with using devices or computers on some level.
There are so many great games and online tools designed for younger students. Once students begin recognising the alphabet, I think they can begin learning to type. This can complement your teaching of traditional writing and literacy.
Some schools of thought suggest that typing might be the new cursive. So instead of investing time in teaching students how to join their writing in middle primary school, perhaps there could be more of a focus on improving keyboarding skills.
Of course, all of this depends on your set curriculum guidelines as well. In my experience, I have found the curriculum is sometimes a little vague when it comes to typing and you need to make your own interpretations!
What About Mobile Devices?
Mobile devices like phones and tablets are becoming more and more common both in and out of schools. Does this have an impact on keyboarding?
I use my phone all the time for browsing, research, or quick forms of communication. I find it very frustrating to try to write an email, blog post, or any long form of communication on a mobile device. I know I’m not alone. The fact is, not being able to type at the speed of thinking is annoying!
So what is the answer here? Some people say learning to touch type on devices like iPads is possible with practice. Do you think so? Or are external keyboards with tablets the way to go? Leave a comment if you have any thoughts on this issue.
The Best Free Sites for Learning to Type
There are many online resources for learning keyboarding skills that include a mix of options including lessons, tests, drills, and games.
These four options should offer something for everyone (scroll down for a comparison chart).
Note: I have no associations with any of these sites.
- This is a really comprehensive resource with over 600 lessons.
- The free versions allows you to create lessons for an unlimited number of students (a paid version offers things like no ads, typing tests, an app, and advanced reporting).
- You can access any lesson by clicking on “get started” if you don’t want your students to sign up.
- Tutorial videos are very professional and helpful.
- Overall, the interface is clean and straightforward.
- This platform is totally free although ads can be removed for a fee.
- There are lessons, tests, and games for all ages.
- Teachers can set up a class account to track progress and see what students are working on in real time.
- If you don’t want to track progress, you can complete lessons without signing in.
- There is a blog to get tips on teaching keyboarding.
- Typing.com works on computers and mobile devices.
- This is a games based program designed for younger students.
- There are three sections: building a keyboard, spotting letters, and practising.
- Typetastic is designed to work on computers and mobile devices.
- Downside: I noticed some of the games don’t have verbal instructions which could limit the independence of young students.
- This site is home to a large range of educational games and apps for K-5.
- The web based games are free (there is a charge for the apps).
- There are around 12 fun typing activities. You don’t need to sign in to access them.
- Downside One: There isn’t a landing page for all the keyboarding games that I can see. So you’d have to show your students how to navigate to the activity you want them to work on, or add a link somewhere like on your class blog.
- Downside Two: Many games on this site use Flash which is on its deathbed.
Comparison Table of Typing Websites
For a quick overview, I’ve summarised the above four resources in this table.
I truly believe the ability to type with reasonable speed and accuracy helps students to better cope with the digital world they live in. Students are increasingly going to be held back in their school, work, everyday life, and future career if they don’t have adequate typing skills.
When students can touch type, they can focus more on the important tasks– communicating, collaborating, creating, curating and so on.
Perhaps the ideal is still being able to type and handwrite fluently. Or maybe the importance of handwriting will continue to decline? Whatever the case, remember that the scenario we really want to avoid is where students can do neither very well!
Add to the conversation! I’d love to hear your thoughts about teaching typing.
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