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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Keys to the (Online) Kingdom: The Importance of Basic Computer Skills

It may seem obvious, but one of the things I need to cover at my technology-training workshops is the basic what, why, and how of keyboarding. Without the basic ability to type quickly and accurately, getting your ideas and data into a computer can take a lot of time and can be frustrating. Who really wants to use the hunt-and-peck method of inputting data for the rest of their lives?

Sure, someday we may have foolproof voice-recognition software, which will eliminate the need for typing, but it's not readily available today. So, to use a computer with ease, being able to type is still an important skill. Once students learn to keyboard and learn basic word processing skills, the integration of the computer into all disciplines is much easier.

Technology skills outlined in the No Teacher Left Behind Act require that students be technology literate by the end of the eighth grade. Expectations are that students create reports on a word processor, use a spreadsheet for calculations, and use a presentation tool for demonstrating new knowledge. However, many students have never been taught the basics and continue to use the computer as if it were a typewriter.

Keyboarding should be taught in the early grades -- before students acquire bad habits. Free typing programs can be found on the Internet, and software packages can be purchased. The tried-and-true teacher-taught method -- the method by which most of us learned to keyboard -- is one way to ensure students learn to correctly input data.

While students are learning to keyboard, other basic skills can be taught, such as

  • use of a mouse (click, double-click, left click, right/control click, click and drag)
  • opening a new document.
  • saving a document (proper naming and location for saving).
  • standard fonts, such as Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, Comic Sans.
  • appropriate size of font for print and presentations.
  • one space after all punctuation, including periods.
  • alignment (left, center, right).
  • printing.
  • closing a document and an application.

As students become comfortable with these basics, other skills can be taught. Many skills can be incrementally learned in the third and fourth grades. The left and right margins in Microsoft Word by default are unusually wide; therefore, students should be taught to change the margins (and even reset the default, if desired).

Another underused function of the computer is the setting of tabs. To get from one place to another place on a page, many times students will consecutively press the space bar or the preset tab. Because the typewriter had only one kind of tab, the different kinds of tabs on a computer (left, right, center, decimal) are little known. Students must be given examples of when each of these tabs are used, such as

  • left tab: indentation of a paragraph.
  • Center tab: in headers/footers and certain kinds of poetry.
  • right tab: in headers/footers and to place the name, date at top of paper.

The proper use of font styles are also important. For example, underlining on a computer is discouraged because the underline token breaks a font descender (for example, the word young). The bold style is more commonly used for headings. The italics style, not the underline, is used to denote book titles and the like.

Once a student has learned to click and drag the mouse, the commands to copy, cut, and paste, as well as the use of the delete (and backspace) keys, can be taught. Other useful skills include, but are not limited to,

  • undo and redo typing.
  • bullets and numbering.
  • headers and footers, including page numbering.
  • tables.

Other word processing skills, such as columns, breaks, sections, borders, and word count, can be taught in middle school.

Read another post of mine, which answers many of your questions and gives links to free resources on keyboarding and word processing skills.

Comments (35)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

M White's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with all of you on this one.

However, as a Tech Coordinator/Teacher I also want to make sure that keyboarding is really viewed as skillbuilding and not a means in and of itself to babysit 25 students at a time as some of my teachers have wanted to do. It's amazingly quiet when all have headphones on and the program tells them what to do!

If my 3rd-8th graders spend 15-20 minutes on our program and THEN go and apply that for another 20 minutes to creating a great piece of writing, that's when I see keyboarding pay off.

Nice to see views from outside K-12!

Vera K. White's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My middle students have just begun their computer math (goal: Math Olympiad) class with a keyboarding software program. Their initial test scores were 5 wpm and our class goal is 25 wpm. Think about that -- the human brain travels so much faster than 5 wpm that slow keyboarding will frustrate these students. Until this necessary skill improves, their chances of winning an online math competition are slim, even with correct answers and quick solution times. And these kids are going to be winners!

Erin M.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first year to teach keyboarding. I know this is an important skill and so many parents are thankful that my school offers this 9 week course to 6th graders. But what do you do for the students who don't catch on as fast as the others. I don't want my students to be bored while we are waiting on a few studedents to finish a lesson.
Can you also give me some ideas to maybe make it more exciting?

Dawn Grobe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hallelujah, from an Elementary School (K-6) Technology Specialist. When I graduated from high school 12 years ago 2 things happened there; keyboarding became a requirement (I took it senior year) andthey began using computers for keyboarding instead of electric typewriters. Since I have been teaching in the same district I graduated from, they have moved the requirement from High to Middle School and the Middle School promptly dropped it on the lap of the Elementary School

I have been trying to teach keyboarding for the whole of my 7 years here. I have finally gotten a server, network Type to Learn software and eager kids. I am still working with all 3-6 graders, as I only just got it all going last year.

I tell them all the time that they will thank me when they get to high school (and I have had some come back to sing my praises). They watch me type and are so impressed but I have some trouble getting them to realize it isn't just from years of practice, it is from learning and do it right when I did. I have used the "skins" (thin plastic opaque covers) and taken them away. I have those who tell me they "can't do it", when they have never really tried. But then I have others who can almost out pace me. Who do you think gets their papers done faster?

I have been criticized by (mostly) school board members and parents who think I should be teaching more advanced topics (programming for example). "Who needs keyboarding?" asked the dad/school board member who wants me to teach programming. I have printed out your article to show him.

We also do word processing, presentations, Internet safety, digital imaging, and fun stuff. They are 12 and under, how much do they really need to learn now?

Kathryn Peyton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a grade 7-8 keyboarding/technology teacher.

I agree with most of the above. Keyboarding is a great endeavour for middle school students for many reasons. One, they learn a valuable skill that is very manageable at their level and they gain the confidence of doing something well. Two, they get to use their hands to do something at least once a day. Three, they are usually already typing, but incorrectly, so learning to keyboard properly requires them to get outside their comfort zone and take a risk. It is also a good class for kids who don't necessarily excel in the academic classes, but can be quite adept at keyboarding.

One concern I have is the standard requiring spreadsheets by eighth grade. In my experience, the whole spreadsheet concept is a little too abstract for the middle school brain. Some kids get it, but most are not able to get beyond simple data entry. The notions of formulas, copying formulas, etc. just doesn't make sense to them at this level. I think time in a tech class for middle schoolers is far better spent on presentation software, multimedia, and basic internet skills (both researching and staying safe).

Marilyn Chiarello's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Keyboarding is a skill that I teach in our elementary school computer lab to 3rd and 4th graders. It is the only skill that I teach in isolation. All other computer skills are integrated into projects that support the curriculum. Beginning in first grade, students use the computers for curriculum-embedded projects developed collaboratively with the classroom teacher.

Patsy Lanclos's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Good comments. Thank you for reading and commenting on this column. Keyboarding is a tactile-kinesthetic skill that needs practice and reinforcement. Since computers have entered all of our school, it is essential that proper data entry techniques are taught early -- before bad habits can be formed. (It is so hard to break bad habits! Have you broken the habit of putting two spaces after a period?)

I agree that the word processing skills should be integrated as a part of the writing curriculum and not taught in isolation.

There are some resources for teaching keyboarding on my website. You can also do a Google search for typing software +free. Many resources will be listed. Some of these programs can be used for enrichment, practice, or for those who "finish early."

Char Gould's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your article will be reprinted and posted by many technology instructors. Community members in the technology industry are not aware of best teaching practices and often suggest curriculum pacing that will be detrimental to underlying skill development. Keyboarding is a gateway skill. We are handicapping students by not providing instruction and guidance.
I have an observation - and to be honest a belief - concerning keyboard speed. It is linked very closely to the ability to spell. If a child has very poor spelling - they are not able to type words or thoughts, but only individual symbols. Now my question, do we have any research examining possible improvement in spelling and therefore reading levels - as a result of keyboarding practice? I'd be interested in knowing. Thanks for the encouraging article.

Caroline Morris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First of all, I'd like to thank you, Patsy for giving me such valuable resources (your article as well as the website).

I teach "Computer Explorations" at a school in North Alabama. I teach keyboarding and basic computer literacy skills at the 6th grade level. My school system is going through application phases of the International Baccularate Programme which requires technology taugh at the sixth grade level. My students, for the most part, are progressing rather well through our keyboarding unit. The students I teach live in very poverty-stricken communities, and this exposure to technology at ages 11-12 is such an advantage in their lives. They LOVE the hands-on learning and life-long skills they are acquiring.

The only disadvantage in my situation is the fact that these students will not have a computer class again until 9th grade. That's 2 years that their skills will diminish. Hopefully the system will work that out.

Thanks again!

Wes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, kids need to be taught at an early age how to use the computer because these days technology is taking over the classroom. Also, on the other hand though, being an elementary school these days is more like being in middle school. Children are learning how to speak spanish starting in 1st grade. I remember the my days in elementary school when we learned the basics that prepared me for middle school, but its not like that anymore and I believe that it takes away from the children learning to be social. Elementary school is not only a place of learning academics but also social skills. Many friendships are formed in elementary and the social part of their life starts to become bigger. To just keep adding more and more academics to elementary takes away from that. So in ways i'm split, it would help for them to learn the computer skills such as basic typing, but when are we going to stop adding more and more requirements for children at such a young age. I didn't learn how to type until i was in 7th grade and I now am a computer whiz.

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