Elementary students in computer class show why keyboarding skills are important for digital natives.

Keyboarding is key to well-rounded digital natives

Keyboarding skills are crucial, but they might be overlooked when educating digital natives

Interacting with technology is second nature to children these days. But, even though these digital natives are tech-savvy, they might not have the keyboarding and digital citizenship skills to make them stronger and more adept learners.

In a recent edWebinar, “Keys to Success for Digital Natives,” experts explained that digital natives still need to strengthen their technological know-how in this context, and offered strategies teachers can use to build these much-needed skills.

Eyes on keyboarding skills

Today’s children engage with screens regularly. But, explained Paula Heinricher, MS, OTR/L, keyboarding has taken a backseat to the interactive ways they access and respond to digital content.

Related content: 4 tech skills every middle schooler needs

Yet, children who can negotiate the keyboard develop critical psycho-motor and academic skills. This requires a well-designed curriculum with scaffolded, age-appropriate lessons and instruction within a developmental framework. Heinricher urged selecting programs with grade-level licenses that meet the keyboarding needs of typically developing students in any given grade.

Keyboarding elements and learning path

Heinricher pointed to the psycho-motor skills keyboarding programs should focus on and strengthen for digital natives. These include:
• Eye-hand coordination
• Visual location of letters
• Finger sense—knowing where fingers are in relationship to the keys
• Finger movement—isolating and moving fingers for specific keys
• Visual memory—recalling where keys rest to balance keyboarding with on-screen interaction
• Bilateral coordination—coordinating both hands to use the keyboard
• Posture—making sure learners sit properly while keyboarding

Teachers must recognize the three motor-learning phases in which children gain and grow keyboarding techniques, explained Learning Without Tears program specialist Tania Ferrandino, OTR/L. Each stage informs the design of effective lessons.

1) The cognitive phase: Learners rely on visual feedback. When keyboarding, they look at their fingers or the screen immediately after hitting the key.

2) The associative phase: Learners depend on kinesthetic or touch cues. As they use the keyboard, students associate a letter with striking a key. Practice and repetition of frequently-used letter combinations are essential for building proficiency at this level.

3) The autonomous phase: Learners seek kinesthetic feedback. It’s at this stage that the learner essentially “types” automatically.

Launching and advancing keyboarding skills

Teachers can introduce children to foundational keyboard skills through lessons that, for example, focus on finger-key associations for letters, gradually scaffold into words and sentences, and then have learners type paragraphs.

Lessons should include multi-sensory activities that help students grasp the keyboard’s layout. For example, explained Heinricher, to learn the keys, learners can use different color letter tiles representing keyboard keys. They place the tiles on an enlarged keyboard to enhance letter identification and understanding of the keyboard’s construct.

Ferrandino emphasized that the keyboard’s home row is where children begin to develop correct typing and fluency. Going row-by-row, instead of in the traditional column-based approach is easier for learners to find key grooves where they can place their fingers. Learners respond to simple cues that familiarize them with touch typing’s up/down movement.

Breaking the keyboard into six row-based chunks allows learners to negotiate the QWERTY (standard keyboard layout) map. Students might, for example, start with the left home row, move to the right home row, and then to the left top row. This approach reduces visual confusion; reinforces left- and right-hand placement to facilitate easier finger-key association; and makes children aware of the home row’s value.

A program that offers on-screen color-coded rows makes it even easier for learners to identify exactly where to place their fingers as they move up or down to select the right key. Ferrandino suggested using songs or rhyming chants to reinforce finger placement.

Boosting keyboarding skills

Ferrandino and Heinricher offered other methods to move learners to keyboard mastery:
• Select a keyboarding curriculum that provides game-based activities rotated across multiple theme-based subject areas.
• Provide ongoing opportunities for keyboarding practice, e.g., having students type responses to writing prompts.
• Engage students in dictation activities, such as listening to audio and typing what they hear without visual clues.
• Use dual purpose assessments that incorporate online test-taking skills in addition to reporting on speed and accuracy.
• Have students participate weekly in 30-40 minutes of structured, chunked practice activities.

Digital citizenship through keyboarding

Young digital natives are not always prepared to be safe and responsible online. They need to become responsible and cautious digital citizens

Heinricher recommended using keyboarding programs that offer grade-level digital citizenship lessons—focused on digital information, protection, consideration, and communication—and assessments.

Pairing lessons with assessments is important for measuring learners’ digital citizenship knowledge and boosting their digital test-taking skills as they answer questions with response mechanisms such as drag and drop, multi-select answers from a dropdown menu, and single-select answers that require mousing skills.

Keyboarding success is important for digital natives. That requires dedicated practice focused on these skills. And, reminded Heinricher, it’s important to approach keyboarding instruction as teachers do other areas of curricula: in a developmentally appropriate way.

About the presenters

Paula Heinricher is an occupational therapist with more than 20 years of professional experience. She has worked most extensively with the pediatric population. Her experiences include working in the schools (Pre-K through middle school), early intervention, and private practice. She has extensive experience using the Handwriting Without Tears and Get Set for School programs with children of all ability levels across all settings. Paula has been a National Workshop Presenter for Learning Without Tears since 2005. She also works privately with children who have fine motor, sensory motor, and handwriting concerns. Paula received her master of occupational therapy from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is certified in Sensory Integration Therapy.

Tania is a program specialist and national workshop presenter for Learning Without Tears. She received her B.S. in occupational therapy from St. Loye’s School of Occupational Therapy in Exeter, England, and now lives in Dover, Delaware with her husband and children. Before joining Learning Without Tears, Tania worked as an occupational therapist in the school system with children of all ages and abilities.

Join the community

Crayons, Pencils, and Keyboards is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net to help make Pre-K–5 readiness, handwriting, and keyboarding fun and easy by providing a place to share the latest tips and tricks for creating confident communicators.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Learning Without Tears. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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