“Johnny” from Massachusetts is your typical 10 year-old. The oldest of four, his mother “Susan” has stressed the importance of a well-rounded education from the time Johnny and his siblings were old enough to attend preschool. She’s a supporter of the new federal Common Core Curriculum guidelines as a way to fundamentally improve the basic skills students will need to succeed in the real world. Susan also sees education as a parent-teacher partnership and has always been on the lookout for ways to reinforce Johnny’s in-school studies with books, games, and exercises that will give him the skills he’ll need to pursue a successful career.
Early on, Susan recognized the importance of the computer to her son’s education and development and tried to incorporate the latest electronic software into his after-school day. There was only one problem. Johnny didn’t know how to type. So Susan went out and bought a popular learn-to-type software program. It was filled with fun exercises, flashing lights, sound effects, and typing games, and Johnny was able to advance at his own pace, “completing” the course in less than a week. He still didn’t know how to type.
Think of an athlete. Hitting a baseball, throwing a football, or kicking a soccer ball is effortless… a result of repeated practice. Athletes perform basic skills naturally, without thinking. Willie Mays didn’t become the “Say Hey” kid in a week. “Air Jordan” wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. It’s the same with any skill, even typing.
Educators at the Ben Bronz Academy in West Hartford, Connecticut, studied children in various learning environments for over two decades, watching and developing methods to improve the learning process. They paid specific attention to children with attention problems, special education needs, and learning disabilities and concluded that young people with and without these learning issues, can succeed more effectively through the use of computers for drill and practice. And when they learn to touch type, they are able to channel their focus on what they’re learning. Their fingers actually become an unwitting extension of their brains! Students who type learns better, retain more, and succeed in school.
It’s all about muscle memory. Great typists, like great athletes, need to learn the fundamentals by practicing them day after day, building new skills only after they master something less difficult. An effective keyboarding program should be systematically designed so a child must truly master a skill, before advancing to a more challenging one.
To teach children to type, a program must incorporate the following elements.
- Break lessons down into short exercises that build muscle memory and cater to students with limited attention spans.
- Work at a systematic pace. Students shouldn’t be able to go to the next level of difficulty without mastering an easier level.
- The program must stress returning fingers to the “home position,” the key to touch typing proficiency.
- Everyone likes to have fun but games sometimes get in the way of good learning. Games should be used as incentives (not a teaching method) and as a reward for a job well done.
In a lot of ways, a good typing program should focus on a return to the basics, creating a structured but simple way for children to learn how to type… a skill they’ll use nearly every day for the rest of their lives.
Susan purchased a new typing program about six months ago and Johnny has been practicing his keyboarding skills for just 15 minutes every day ever since. Susan wrote us a note last week telling us he’s now fluent at 35 words per minute and she’s noticed a marked improvement in his school work as well. Now she says, “Johnny knows how to type.”
Carrie Shaw is an educator and the founder of Keyboard Classroom, one of the fastest growing learn-to-type software programs in America. Her website is www.keyboardclassroom.com and she can be reached via email at email@example.com.