“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” —Bill Gates

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Typing: Then and Now

Hi! I was looking for a document on my computer and I bumped into an essay I wrote back in 2008 for one of my graduate courses. I love to type and whenever I can I encourage students to learn it well, so I enjoyed the reminder of why I love it so much. Here's an extract of the paper which, by the way, was about Behaviorism Theory.

About the Teacher

Mrs. Reyes had been in school for many years now; she was basically a teacher for the Commerce section. She had not studied to be an educator; she had studied to become a secretary and an accountant. She was dedicated to forming new secretaries and accountants. Unfortunately, the Commerce section at the school had to be closed down, and fortunately, she entered the secondary school faculty, hence, her experience with the course to be described. At the same time, she was the homeroom teacher for the same group of students. She was a nice, middle-aged woman at that time, with an only child: a twenty-year-old daughter.

About the Class

The school was a rigid, catholic, private, girls only school. It had preschool, primary, and secondary levels. In this generation there were 40 girls. Besides having the core subjects, Music, and Sports classes, the Typing and Shorthand class, was one of the few elective classes that were available at that time in the secondary of that school. There was not much to choose from, the other classes were cooking and sewing. Two courses that didn’t seem too promising at the moment. For this generation of students, most of them for the three years of secondary school chose the same class: Typing and Shorthand. The first year they had another teacher, whose name has been forgotten. Then Mrs. Reyes became the new teacher and would be with them for the following year too. The class met for Typing three times a week, one hour each, and Shorthand one hour a week but included lots of homework for practice.

Class Procedures
Three times a week, the group would go to a room equipped with one Smith-Corona typewriter for each of them. The machines were arranged in a way in which they were all facing to the front of the room. At the front, attached to the blackboard, was a large chart displaying the keys and fingers, color-coded. There was a textbook that needed to be purchased by the students that included lessons with pages of typing examples. The pages had to be copied exactly, without errors. 

These lessons were gradually increasing in difficulty level, throughout the school year. At first the lessons were simple letter combinations and repetitions. As more letters were learned, the lessons included words, and later on sentences, full paragraphs, stories, and full page letters. So eventually, the lessons resembled more what everyday typing would be like.

The first few weeks of class the students and the teacher thought they were doing fine. The typed pages looked great: no mistakes and no smudges. But then suddenly, the teacher noticed that although the end-product was looking fine, the students had really not learned to type. She observed them and quickly noticed how deficient their typing skills were. They had not learned proper homerow position, nor correct finger memorization. They had spent the previous year typing erroneously. Now the teacher had a big problem — and so did the students.

This is how she solved the problem. First of all, she stopped expecting nicely typed papers from the students. Her objective was memorization. The only and most drastic thing she did was to tape a sheet of paper to the typewriting machine, in order to cover up the keys; for lack of a better covering-up device. Hands had to be placed underneath the paper. The students were expected to only look up to the chart at the front of the room, which had been completely ignored before, and look at the book placed to the right side of the typewriter.

This went on for several weeks and the teacher was always encouraging the students and noticing how faster they were typing and how many less mistakes they were making. She would move around during the full hour of class, looking at hand placement, posture, and the typed paper coming out. If she noticed good typing habits she would quickly say it out loud to the class for all to hear. If the student was typing incorrectly, she would discretely make the necessary corrections, and the student continued her practice.

Finally, after about 3 months, most of the students had mastered all the keys, alphabet, number, special, and shift keys. Just a few students still struggled to catch up. From then on, it was just a matter of practicing more and more. The teacher’s objective had now switched to improving the speed and the accuracy, that is, the words-per-minute (wpm) and the number of mistakes. The students were beyond the memorization stage, and were ready to improve their wpm and accuracy.

Teaching Typing Today

The teaching methods used to teach typing 30 years ago to secondary school students are still valid today. At present there are numerous computer-based and on-line typing tutors that teach typing without necessarily the presence of a teacher. For example, the software called “Ultrakey”, includes lessons that gradually increase in difficulty by the addition of new letters. In total it has ten lessons. 

Each lesson is accompanied with a series of skill checks or tests, in which the student can practice his typing skills and receive immediate feedback as to how his speed and accuracy resulted. The student has the option to redo the lesson or move forward when he feels secure. Additionally, the software provides charts and statistics, history, and dates of all the lessons and test attempts taken, not to mention commendations on achieving the typing goal and improving from previous lessons.

There are currently sophisticated devices geared towards covering up the keyboard names. Some are stickers; some are dark plastic keyboard protectors; some are cloths; specially made keyboards, etc. that serve the same purpose as having a taped sheet of paper above the keys.

This new version of a typing tutor doesn’t sound too different from what Mrs. Reyes was doing back then 30 years ago. Her teaching methods have been transported to the modern age and are now systematically incorporated into a commercially distributed typing tutor

What has your experience been with learning or teaching typing skills? I'd love to hear your story!


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