Kids are very impressed when they observe me typing — or is it called keyboarding now? I will call it typing, since I am an old dog and I don’t feel like learning yet one more new trick.
I learned touch-typing in HS on one typewriter in a room full of other students and typewriters, keys all blank. As I recall, we watched a primitive screen at the front of the room, which (miraculously for that era) somehow scrolled down, showing patterns of letters, first on the home row, then progressing to the ones above and below, finally including capitals and punctuation. Numbers were the final challenge since they require a reach farthest from the home row.
Back then, we used a lower case L for the number 1. I occasionally find myself reverting to that when I’m really tired or distracted. We were also taught to put 2 spaces after a period. Ken, my colleague who produces many of the blogs on our website, advised me several years ago that this is no longer necessary, and I’ve managed to mostly stop doing that. (Ken will proofread this and may well catch a few exceptions!)
Though there are computers in every classroom now, I am not aware of many students formally learning touch-typing at school. A 6th-grade student I’m working with, however, IS learning it with an online program in his “digital design” class. This started me thinking about the value of touch-typing. Kids start playing around on computers at such a young age now that they usually develop their own idiosyncratic systems of typing and use it ever after. I’ve seen students who can type quickly and accurately without looking at the keys or using the traditional touch-typing system, but they are rare. More often, they have to look down at the keys repeatedly as they are trying to get their thoughts down.
Benefits listed in several touch-typing advocacy articles include:
- Allows focus, concentration on expressing ideas — no searching for the right keys because motor memory is automatic.
- Better posture is possible — no hunching over to see keyboard.
- SPEED. Even average touch-typists can type 60+ words per minute, so tasks can be done in much less time.
- Job prospects and performance are improved. Though I haven’t seen “typing speed” on a resume lately, most jobs require computer use, and it is a definite advantage.
Beyond these advantages that apply to everyone, there is some evidence that touch-typing can benefit people with dyslexia or “wobbly spelling,” as Winnie-the-Pooh called it. When you think about it, that makes sense. Students who lack a strong visual memory for common patterns, for instance, can develop motor memory for tricky spellings like the infamous ough that I referred to in a recent blog.
The history of development of the QWERTY keyboard layout is fascinating. The first typewriters were mechanical, with each letter mounted on a metal arm. If two or three letters that frequently appear in sequence in English were mounted on adjacent arms, they would “clash and jam,” so several attempts at ordering the letters on the keyboard were tried until arriving at the current setup.
These days, all kinds of websites, some of them free, teach typing in an efficient way, and individuals can work at their own pace. I happened across a really great one called agilefingers.com. There is a lesson component that teaches the letters in the traditional way, but you can set goals, play games (one with letter-finding, one with whole words), then work on speed by typing passages of literature — Jane Austen, Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Lewis Carroll, etc.
Learning typing can be fun, but requires attention and patience. The 6th-grader I referred to above was excited to show me his typing program, worked on it for a minute or two, and asked whether he could do so again at the end of his session. When he got back to it, he tried typing a little faster than he was ready to go, and soon became frustrated. I will be reminding him of the age-old lesson of “slow and steady wins the race,” that it takes a while to develop a new skill. Short, calm, focused practice sessions will give him strong motor memory and allow the fun of developing more speed after climbing the steep part of the learning curve.
Hmmm. . . I’m not sure I have used the phrase “learning curve” with him. I think I’ll share this image with him to show him that there’s a challenging phase to accomplish before you can relax and sail (and get competitive)!
Links used in this article: QWERTY keyboard history.