Is Keyboarding Dead?

keyboardingI was on one of my tech teacher forums–where I keep up to date on changes in education and technology–and stumbled into a heated discussion about what grade level is best to begin the focus on typing (is fifth grade too old–or too young?). Several teachers shared that keyboarding was the cornerstone of their elementary-age technology program. Others confessed their Admin wanted it eliminated as unnecessary. Still others dismissed the discussion as moot: Tools like Dragon Speak (the standard in speech recognition software) and iPhone’s wildly-popular  Siri mean keyboarding will soon be as useful as cursive and floppy discs.

My knee jerk reaction was That’s years off, but it got me thinking. Is it really? Or are the fires of change about to sweep through our schools? Already, families are succumbing to the overwhelming popularity of touch screens in the guise of iPads. No typing required–just a finger poke, a sweep, and the command is executed. Those clumsy, losable styluses of your parent’s era are so last generation. The day kids discover how easy it is to tell their phones what they need done (think iPhone 4S)–stick a fork in it; keyboarding will be done.

Truthfully, as someone who carefully watches ed tech trends, a discussion about the importance of keyboarding says as much about national education expectations as typing. Schools are moving away from reports and essays as methods of assessing understanding. Teachers want plays that act out a topic, student-created videos that demonstrate authentic understanding, multi-media magazines that convey a deeper message. Web-based communication tools like Voki, Animoto, and Glogster–all of which have limited typing–are de rigeur in every academic program that purports to be tech-savvy. Students are encouraged to use audio, visual, taped vignettes, recorded snippets–everything that ISN’T the traditional MS Word document with a bullet list of comprehensive points to convey the message. For much of what students want out of life–to call a friend, find their location on GPS, arrange a get-together, create a reminder–writing is passe. Email to your middle school and high school children is as anachronistic as snail mail. Even texting is being shunted aside by vlogs and Skype, and note-taking–with the popularity of apps like Evernote–has become something best accomplished with swipes and clicks.

That’s what’s killing keyboarding.

But it’s not dead yet. Certainly, voice commands can activate a software program or bring up the teacher’s website to view homework, but how do you quietly talk to a computer during a lecture? Are programs like Dragon Speak and Siri capable of blocking out extraneous sounds and focusing in on the singular human voice? And don’t discount the aesthetics of typing. Take me for example. I’m a K-8 technology teacher. I’m in the know about the latest and greatest in technology trends. I’m expected to try them–and use them. I write for a hobby, but I have arthritis. My doctor wants me to stop typing, switch to Dragon Speak. My modern kids are all for it, but Dragon Speak’s quirkiness (like mis-typing oh-so-many words) is distracting. Plus, there’s a connection between my brain and fingers that helps me think. Maybe it’s as simple as I muse at the speed I type. Maybe the clackity-clack of the keys is soothing to my rattled brain. Nothing in my pedagogic or anecdotal research has convinced me it isn’t also true for kids. If we eliminate the peaceful predictability of tapping fingers on those little squares, will getting words on paper be more difficult?

I wonder.

I decided to poll my parents. Overwhelmingly, they support age-appropriate keyboard training for children as young as kindergarten. They understand that typing may be antiquated some day, but not today, or tomorrow. Until it is, they want their kids to learn it.

What do you think?

For a unique keyboarding curriculum from Ask a Tech Teacher, click here.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Categories: classroom management, education reform, Keyboarding, opinion | Tags: , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Is Keyboarding Dead?

  1. For two years, admin told teachers that keyboarding was not an “official” part of the curriculum. Therefore, no time should be sheltered for keyboarding.

    At grade 5, students begin 1:1 with MacBook Pros. After 2 years without sheltered typing, we 5th grade teachers noticed. Really noticed. Our students were not able to communicate their thoughts as easily because they were hunting/pecking. They were using the Caps Lock key for every capital letter. Their ergonomic practices were atrocious.

    Parents started asking when students would learn. Students didn’t want to break all of their bad habits – because their bad habits were engrained.

    At the end of last year, teacher leaders and admin came to a consensus on the importance of keyboard instruction in grades 3 and 4. We 5th grade teachers are seeing a huge difference. Also, the purchase of license was a good choice. Students love it because it is full of practice games.

    Hence, I’m a big believer in keyboarding. That shouldn’t be the whole of technology instruction, but it is (at least for now) a foundational part of information literacy.

    • Fascinating story, a real life experience. I’m struggling to hang on to keyboard instruction in my school. Let me ask you something: You now teach keyboarding to 3/4. Do you continue instruction in 5th grade? Or is 2 years sufficient to set the good habits?


  2. Michelle Bellah

    I think keyboarding is still an imperative skill. We don’t want our students (ie: society) to only know how to USE the front-end of technology, we want them to be able to build tools and technology in the future – as in, computer science, software programming, engineering, etc! I’m afraid we’re enabling a generation of consumers with no producers, and that is very scary. Allowing them to learn only how to speak to a piece of equipment without knowing how and why the equipment operates is doing them and society as a whole a disservice. (Keyboarding just scratching the surface of this, of course, but I think it’s part of a bigger discussion.) That’s my two cents!

    • I agree with you. But then, I wonder about calculators. I embraced them in lieu of knowing the math behind it. I wonder if I’m making excuses.

  3. Andrea

    As a tech coordinator in a school for kids with special needs, I know keyboarding is a necessary skill. Many of our kids are non-verbal or have limited intelligibility. Neither Siri nor Dragon have a prayer of understanding them. They will need typing as an access method even if it becomes an alternative method. Expanding that to everyone, I think that it is important to provide the necessary instruction to access various technologies in all possible ways, because you never know when what’s “normal” will become impossible for someone.

  4. We didn’t stop teaching handwriting when computers became available. In the same way I don’t think Siri/Dragon Speak will replace typing. There will always be the need to type, especially when it can be quicker than writing.

    In my school in the UK, I teach ICT Skills to every class ( 3 to 11 year olds) for only 35 minutes . If I didn’t run my two early morning touch typing sessions the children would accomplish very little during their sessions with me.

    My 20 minute daily touch typing sessions are for Year 3 to Year children (7 – 11 year olds). The children are expected to attend every day for 5 weeks.

  5. I would like to double down on keyboarding skills, but my Admin don’t support that (nor does the IT Director) so I know it won’t happen. I can see their side as well as mine, so I’m OK with the outcome.

    I may change my mind in a few years, though.

  6. Whatever the medium is, touch screens, dictation, traditional keyboards, I hope that teaching extended writing and thinking remains part of curriculums. With the Common Core, it should. It’s so easy to fragment our thoughts with all of the technology tools we have, and I believe “traditional” keyboarding and writing must still be emphasized!

    • Education is struggling–without a doubt–to figure out the best way to integrate tech tools. Common Core has the right idea. If keyboarding can get autonomic, then it does nothing but improve student writing skills.

      • Kristy

        With the new Common Core Assessments, 4th grade students are expected to type a 1 or 2 page research paper/essay. My school district is phasing out keyboarding in the middle and highschools and putting a greater emphasis on mastering keyboarding in the elementary schools. As a technology teacher of k-5, it is not the most compelling subject to teach, but I think it is and will be very relevant for a while. Our students are not taught how to cursive or print handwriting, so they need some form of written communication vehicle.

      • That’s an interesting approach. I haven’t heard that before, but it makes complete sense. Thanks for sharing that.

  7. Pingback: Why Keyboarding Should NOT be Dead | Ask a Tech Teacher

  8. SueAnn Peete

    I teach K-6 computers. I teach keyboarding in all grade levels. 3/4 specifically. However, I see this as a giant hurdle. When I teach keyboarding skills; home row, posture, finger placement and use of our online software, the kids get it! They really get it. I walk around the lab and they are using the software, the fingering is good. WPM are great, errors are down. But when I test them in Word processing, their fingering is terrible. Their errors go up and their fingering resorts back to hunt and peck. What gives? Every child, every grade level, every day of the year. Someone please tell me I am not the only one.

    • Everything you’ve said is true. I’ve had the same experience. Rote drill simply doesn’t work in keyboarding. It does help–absolutely–but it takes authentic use. I do tests for speed and accuracy off of a written document–that is placed to the side of the keyboard and they type for five minutes. I sometimes use, but just for practice. I also anecdotally observe their typing as they do class projects–trifolds, blog posts, word processing. I bug them, remind them (and ask classroom teachers, librarian, and parents to do the same) so they understand that typing skills from a drill program must be transferred to all other corners of their learning.

      Keyboarding must be taught by all teachers and parents. They think it’s your job, but because keyboarding affects all classes, it’s everyone’s job. Every time students use the computer, they must use good habits and that takes lots of reinforcement from stakeholders.

      In all three of my keyboard curricula, that drill approach is just a small part, say, 10-15 min. a week. The rest is:

      online games (which you seem to use)
      quizzes (blank keyboard, important keys, speed and accuracy, keyboard challenge)
      authentic use for other class projects, homework, discussion boards, blogs
      integrated into class inquiry so students see why they need speed and accuracy (still, a teacher or parent needs to remind them to follow good habits until THAT becomes a habit)

      I did an article about three weeks ago on this subject so you can get examples and templates from it.

      Truly, done this way, it works. And when students see the homework load and tech demands of MS/HS, they’ll be glad they learned.

      If you have students who are struggling, but committed, I offer an immersive keyboarding program over the summer. They spend an hour a day for fifteen days on keyboarding, long enough to make good habits. Then, they have to keep them! I’m not pushing that–just letting you know.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if I missed any issues.

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