Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombies Ate My Home Row

Happy Halloween to one and all!

For those feeling ghoulish, might I recommend satisfying your appetite for zombies and all things creepy with NSTeens' Cyberbully Zombies Attack? For the rest of us, let's solve the dilemma of touch type keyboarding once and for all. Then again, maybe the zombies are sounding tempting, huh?

I thought touch-type keyboarding was like 1999 (or at least 2005 or so), but I've had other educators share their concerns about kids needing to be familiar with the keyboard and needing the practice. Point taken. A clear advantage of the good ole home row is that proficiency with it does enable one to watch the screen and not one's fingers. And it looks good, right? I am forever amazed at how quickly those fluent in touch typing can navigate a keyboard.

So let's teach it. Let's find a wealth of resources to support our endeavor. There's Dance Mat Typing and a few other typing games available. Arcademic Skillbuilders recently released Typing Jets and Sky Chase typing games. And there's UpBeat, the Guitar Hero-esque dance game that is sure to get kids' fingers moving. And let's skill kids and make them practice, practice, practice. Vygotsky maintained that learning begot development, so let's spur fine motor development and get those kids typing ... 

Right? Well, perhaps. I know for some people, this conversation is long past. Typing for some does seem so 1999, and well, perhaps it is becoming an antiquated skill. Michigan dropped a keyboarding component in their latest rendition of the METS (our tech standards). At the very least, touch typing seems to be quickly becoming antiquated. But for others, keyboarding is still a critical component in their curriculum or the materials they cover. For many, keyboarding is success.

And I still teach my students keyboarding.

No, not touch typing, per se, because I personally feel that mobile devices have largely made touch typing an antiquated skill, similar to cursive writing. Are both faster? They can be, but what are we driving at? Well, can students sign their name? Can they write a signature that is uniquely theirs? Can they write quickly and fluently (at least so they can read it?) Then what more can we ask? 

What about the keyboard? Well, can the students navigate the keyboard fluently? I think knowing where the keys are is a tiny building block here. In fact, both my husband and I have been known to "quiz" kids with a blank keyboard just to see how well they know it. I think fluency with a keyboard means using two hands and knowing where the keys are. Yes, I make my students keep both hands-on the keyboard. The muscles in their wrists take a little time to develop, but I found that TVO Kid's Keyboard Climber is an excellent introduction into keyboard familiarity that gets the kids using two hands.

I also teach keyboard shortcuts. Even as touch pads become increasingly intuitive (I LOVE my touchpad controls under Lion!), keyboard shortcuts remain one of the easiest ways to speed up a project on the computer. Knowing the basics and being quick with the basics is one of the ways I help my students reach keyboard fluency. 

Besides, the METS may have dropped keyboarding, but the ELA Common Core Standards clearly set a new precedent for keyboard fluency when they assert that a fourth grade student should be able to type a 1-page paper in one session. A fifth grade student should be able to type a 2-page paper in a single session! 

While some might be tempted to remind us that any kid could meet that standard ... Arial Extra Bold size 72 font, some of us are reminded what skills will get our kids career and college ready. While we might continue to argue about the best way to teach keyboarding, keyboard fluency is not something we can be lackadaisical on. Computers and the need to navigate a keyboard fluently is not going away, even as "smart" as our speech to text tools might be getting. Let's get our kids on the keyboards and let's get them typing regularly, whether it be two hands, two fingers, or two thumbs. 

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