Is Typing Still Necessary?

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This morning I had the opportunity to sit with parents of our small community to discuss the future of our school.  Near the end of our strategic planning session a parent stopped me to ask my opinion on typing instruction.  Because I have actually taught typing in a previous life (district), been an educator for the past 15 years, and a technology lead for several districts, I have some opinions on the matter.  I quickly jumped on my soap box about why I wasn’t altogether thrilled with typing instruction in school.  Luckily for me I was able to convince myself to stop talking after a couple of minutes and ask her opinions on the subject.

“After my daughter’s second grade year one of the teachers sent home a Things to Do Over the Summer list and one of the activities on there was typing.  We practiced several times a day and her skill improved to where she was typing 15 words per minute.  I remember taking typing in school and it was so valuable to me as I moved on in high school and college.  I would really like to see that continue in the future.”

I am glad that I made the resolution this year to listen more because it will allow me to see other view points on the subjects that I hold dear.  In this case, I have a chance to see why so many people still find typing instruction a necessary component of using the computer or being technologically savvy.  But is development of keyboard typing important?  Here are some reasons why I think we have over valued our stock in typing instruction:

1. Timed writing?

Typing was invented and used as a substitution for writing.  If this is true then can you tell me the last time an application, test, or other measurement tool asked how many words per minute you can write?  My guess would be that the majority of us have never been asked that question.  From most of the English teachers that I have worked with the speed of the work is not nearly as important as the quality of the work.  Simply stated, it is more important to write well than  write quickly.  So when did time become such an important factor?  I assume in the days before personal computers were popular that many assistants typed the work of their bosses.  The more of that work that could be typed quickly, the more work could be accomplished to make the boss look good.  I know that in my high school typing class we copied the information from a textbook (I look back on this and laugh now) for practice.  But, is this a valuable use of time in our digital age?

2. If speed is the name of the game…

then we are already using the wrong equipment.  It has been acknowledged for years that that QWERTY keyboard does not have the cleanest or easiest of layouts for typing speed.  The Dvorak keyboard has been setup so that the keys that are used most often are near our strongest fingers.  Brilliant!  If you are truly looking to speed up writing then please start looking into the Dvorak board.  As a mentor and instructor to young teachers, I know that the content of the writing is far more valuable than how fast they can retype notes.  If I wanted exactly what I said typed, I would have typed it and made copies for all.

3.  Out of content typing.

Most typing programs over the past 30 years have all been focused on route memorization of keys.  Let’s be clear, my goal isn’t to talk anyone out of helping students learn the keyboard.  Instead I would like for students to learn how to type within the context of their learning of other subjects.  For instance, if you are having students write a paper spend a few moments talking about where the keys are and how some have found a benefit with the home row.  Typing is an art form that must be practiced.

4.  Typing has evolved…

Even as I am sitting here I can recall my typing instructor talking about “good posture” and “not looking at the keys”, but the ways in where and how we type have dramatically changed over the past two decades.  In my high school I may be exposed to a keyboard for 1-2 hours daily unless a paper was due.  According to the Washington Post, teens spend an average of 7.5 hours consuming media each day.  With also texting an average of 60 times per day, our students are exposed to typing at an astonishing level.  My guess is that most of them aren’t doing this at a dedicated workstation and they are all successful in what they are typing.  (Except for the iPhone’s auto-correct.  That needs to be fixed!)  iPads, iPhones, Android devices, laptops, tablets, ereaders and more are constantly within the reach of our children.  With all this exposure should we focus our energy and time on how quickly to type or what is being typed?

Finally, there is no one way to do it.

My father-in-law is an amazing guy.  VP of an international company, father of two, grandfather to 5, and great overall man.  In the years before his retirement I asked him why he would “hunt and peck” on his keyboard to type his reports, presentations, and emails.  He said one comment that I will never forget.  “It gets the job done for me.”  That is as simple a statement as necessary.  What I have gained is an appreciation for practicing what is personally comfortable.  Not necessarily what Mavis Beacon or some other program is telling you is the proper way.

I have to admit…

In the beginning of my career I saw the value in typing much differently.  I would instruct for hours about “proper” typing skills and how those would benefit each student forever.  One day a student approached me early in the semester and asked me why she had to learn typing.  I went through my usual speech about how I could show her how to master a machine that will help her everyday for the rest of her life.  She then challenged me to a typing test.  An eighth grader typed 78 words per minute and beat me.  She was a gracious winner (thank you Mikayla) and also insightful.  After beating me soundly on my own terms she asked me, “Do you know how many other kids can do this too?”  Of course I didn’t.  I thought the only way they were going to learn was through me.  Because our state still had the standard and I was in a public school I made the declaration.  “To all students, part of my requirements is for you to show me that you can type 35 wpm.  Once you show me, you don’t have to show me again.”  Within two weeks 85% of my students had met the requirement and I began my journey on understanding education more.

Now the hard question.  When will we no longer type?

Just my thoughts for today.

-B

Resources 

Typing History – http://www.daskeyboard.com/blog/typing-through-time-the-history-of-the-keyboard/

Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/postlive/teens-are-spending-more-time-consuming-media-on-mobile-devices/2013/03/12/309bb242-8689-11e2-98a3-b3db6b9ac586_story.html 

Images used with permission from unsplash.com

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SinceTheTalk-LizColeman (1) What’s the future of education? It’s a popular question right now, with answers ranging from online learning to charter schools. But Liz Coleman is focused on a more fundamental issue: what will schools teach? And what does that mean for the future of our society?

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