A Blog Reader Wants To Know …
Can you tell me anything about the best age to start keyboarding? Recommended programs? I am also looking into how much technology I really need to help my elementary school-aged students with – since I’m more a proponent of kids need to move; but also realizing that state testing is now going to require 3rd graders to type responses. Any advice?
And here’s my response …
These are very good, valid questions, especially considering the trends of today and the requirements being imposed on students even at an elementary-school age. I am going to be doing some research on keyboarding skills for children related to ergonomics and developmental appropriateness of learning the skills associated with this activity in the future and will share that when it’s ready, but, for now, I can tell you this: one thing (besides regular keyboarding practice, of course) that I’ve seen make a difference in keyboarding speed for children in elementary school is replacing the standard keyboard with a smaller one, often called a slim keyboard or a mini keyboard. These are available from many different vendors, many of whom are mainstream (meaning they sell products for use by the general public, not just for people with disabilities).
The slim keyboard is designed to fit the smaller hands of children and is 2/3 the size of a standard keyboard; on many models, the keys are ergonomically arranged as well, meaning that they are angled very slightly to match the natural drift of the fingers on the hands. Some of these offer color-coded keys, which I have seen be helpful some kids learning letter location – and distracting to others. The keyboard should plug in to any computer (desktop or laptop) via USB port or sometimes even by Bluetooth connection; be careful when switching one of these out for a regular “built-in” keyboard on a laptop computer though so that the way the substitute keyboard is positioned does not create an ergonomically incorrect situation (for example, don’t let the child hold the slim keyboard in his lap while he types). The slim keyboard basically decreases the distance the student’s fingers have to travel between keys, which saves time and energy, thus, at least in many of the cases as I’ve seen, improving word-per-minute output speed. This product is different from the ultra-mini keyboard or the micro (or “tiny”) keyboard, both of which are seen below and are not recommended for helping children to learn keyboarding skills.
Regarding software or programs to use for keyboarding practice, I can tell you that there is a great need for scientifically-based research in this area as well; many companies and websites claim their products will improve word-per-minute speed in typing, but only a few specifically target elementary school-aged children – and none of the claims that I have seen have scientific evidence to back up what they’re saying about their product. Here’s what I know from my experience, though:
*Keeping kids from typing in a thumbs-only or index-finger only way is very difficult, especially since children are starting to do this for game playing and texting and the like often before they enter elementary school. It’s not wrong to thumb-type or index-finger type (although it can be result in musculoskeletal problems if it’s overdone – more on that later!), but it’s a good idea to also encourage a pattern of multi-digit access when the child is using a keyboard instead of a touch screen (like an iPad or iPhone) or a micro keyboard (as on a Blackberry phone).
*Rote practice in keyboarding is not usually motivating to children of this age; they quickly grow bored and do not put a good effort into practicing in a “home row: semi-colon, L, K, J – A, S, D, F” type of format, which is the way that many of us in my age group learning typing way back when. In most cases, having a child in elementary school try to learn in this way is setting him up for failure.
*Games can work to increase typing speed and efficiency – when they target the skill of learning letter location and when practice is done on a regular (almost daily) basis, even if it’s just 15 minutes or so each day. Keyboarding games are available via various software – and they are available (often for free) in a web-based format on the internet. Here are some websites that have games that address on typing skills in a format that’s often more motivating to children of this age:
Cup Stacking Game – beginner typing skills at the letter level
Power Typing – keyboarding practice at the word level
Bubble Typing – supports learning of “letter location”
Hyper Spider – addresses keyboarding skills at 3 levels
Mind Bluff – determines word-per-minute typing speed for keyboarders of all levels
The last site in this list brings us to the final point of this entry: as with any type of intervention program, to determine the success of the method being used to target keyboarding skills in a student, it is necessary to measure progress. This can be done by establishing a baseline score – the number of words-per-minute the child types at the beginning of the program – and then through measuring again in the same way over time. My recommendation is to wait at least 3-4 weeks in between scoring; in my experience, with regular practice in between, that is enough time to allow for improvement to show up in the child’s typing speed.