Old dog, new tricks

I am old enough that when I was in high school, there was a class called “Typing.”  There were mostly girls in this class.  And it was, in my teenaged, not-very-humble opinion, a class for those whose highest aspirations involved working for the CEO, not being the CEO.  My guidance counselor suggested this class when I had a free period and did not want a study hall (another completely useless thing, in my thoughts) but I turned my nose up at the idea.

So, I hunted and pecked my way, on a word processor machine, through my upper class research papers and graduated with a diploma that reflected higher learning, not secretarial training.

Even in college, not knowing how to type wasn’t such a big deal.  I didn’t take very many liberal arts classes with writing assignments.  I earned an engineering degree (please note the distinct snobbery in my voice).  Knowledge of spreadsheets and how to format them was much more useful than what was becoming known as “keyboarding skills.” 

It’s really only been in the last 5 – 7 years, since I began blogging, that knowing how to peck out more than 30 words per minute seems like a good idea.  When a typical day includes homeschooling, running, cooking, laundry and basic housekeeping, time for blogging is often carved out of time I could spend doing things arguably more important.  If I could type faster and more accurately, blogging would take less time, theoretically.  Or maybe I would just blog more.

I would still be saving self-improvement programs for some future rainy day if this past school year hadn’t convinced me that my children needed to learn to type, too.  One child in particular was having a very difficult time coping with the fine motor skills required and muscle fatigue that occurred with some of the assignments.  My MODG counselor suggested I just let him use the computer instead of facing the daily battles.  He and I were much happier with this idea.  Now, too, both boys have to write papers.  I honestly do not know which is worse: watching the mental strain of my 13 year old son as he constructs a thoughtful and grammatically correct sentence, or watching him stab the sentence out using only his right index finger.  My suggestion that he use two index fingers at least was declared “too difficult.”

Then, too, I am not a happy computer-sharer.  I confess, I am selfish with my toys.  If my children need to use the computer, they need to get on and get off as quickly as possible.  Agonizing over the location of every letter of every word every single time is just not conducive to family harmony when there is a queue of people who are waiting for you to be done already.

Last summer or fall, I scoured the internet and looked at different keyboarding programs.  The free ones online were inadequate, I felt.  After much waffling, I finally decided upon Keyboard Classroom, which is not a cheap program.  I bought a single-user version to try it out.  I had Katie begin, and she liked it very much.  You begin with a rank of Cadet.  The keys are introduced gradually.  In order to earn a “promotion” to the next rank, the keys must be practiced so often that memorization of their placement is the result.  As you work on your promotion, you earn tokens which can be used to play games.

This summer, I decided to buy the triple-user license so that Fritz, Billy and I could also learn to type.  Other people can sign on as Katie, but they would be working at her level.  Unfortunately, I had significant difficulty loading the triple user version on the computer.  It continued to bring up the single user version, even after I uninstalled it and re-installed the triple user.  I emailed Keyboard Classroom, and within a short period of time received help on how to load the triple user version (it wasn’t my incompetence!  There was a special trick to delete the other code, I guess to prevent abuse).  However, I had wanted 4 users (single plus triple) and there was no way to get both to work, it was either or.  Once again, I emailed the company about my dilemma, and they got back to me right away.  They ended up giving me the code for 5 users, which I very much appreciate.  Their technical support/customer service team is top-notch!

Yesterday, Billy, Katie, and I spent some time working with the program.  I thought I was doing well with 85 – 95 keystrokes in the time period, but then Billy got on and was doing over 100, consistently, with fewer and fewer errors (I attribute this to his years of piano lessons).  I’ve told the kids I want each of us to do 15 minutes a day.  Katie wanted to do longer; Billy was fine doing it and stopping after 15 minutes; I, personally, thought that 15 minutes was the maximum tolerable time period.  It hurts to learn new tricks, mentally.  Well, I’m not learning a new trick as much as re-training myself to do something in a better way.  Fritz will start today.

I do recommend Keyboard Classroom.  Until we get away from using a keyboard, which I don’t see happening anytime soon, it is a skill that our children will need to have, sooner or later.  Once a user has mastered the program, you can clear that user and another user can start from the Cadet rank, so you only need enough users as people who will be actively participating at one time.  I could have managed with just 3, and either made Katie wait until I had mastered it, or waited myself until one of the children grew proficient.  I’m hoping that in a month or two, we’ll all be typing away at a steady pace.

Then, perhaps, it wouldn’t take me two days to write a blog post!

11 thoughts on “Old dog, new tricks

  1. Thanks for commenting on your use of Keyboard Classroom. I have been the Director of this unique typing program for the past 14 years. It was developed by Dr. Ian Spence, headmaster of a school for learning disabled students. I experienced the tremendous difference that was made in a students school life once they could put down the pencil and start touch typing. I found that a student's writing improves through typing because it facilitates the “review and revision” learning process. Efficient keyboarding skills allow a student to emphasize concept development instead of focusing on key location. “Keyboarding is the penmanship of the computer age” (Johnson, Nelson and Townsend, 2002).
    There is more information available on Keyboard Classroom at http://www.keyboardclassroom.com

  2. You are such a mind reader!! I was just thinking yesterday that I needed to purchase a keyboarding program for my 7th grader – also a VERY reluctant writer. Thanks for the recommendation – I will check this out ASAP!! What grade is Katie in now? Is it appropriate for a 3rd grader?

  3. Kris, it is definitely appropriate for a 3rd grader. Even a younger child could do it. The speeds required for “promotion” are fairly low (35 keystrokes where I was doing 140 today), so I think most 6-7 year olds could manage that level. The great thing is that you have to do the same drill 6 times for promotion, so whether you do 40 keystrokes or 100, you still get the necessary repetition to memorize letter placement.

  4. Awesome! I'm going to have to get this program. Keyboarding is something I want all the children to master. I can type as I took typing in high school (a semester to fill in before taking Health). It is great to type quickly without looking at the keys. I can still type over 90 words a minute and yes, it sure does save time. 🙂

  5. PS I took typing because I was into computer programming in high school and needed those skills otherwise, I had thoughts like you.

  6. Michelle,

    I am impressed with who reads your blog. I learned a lot from Carrie’s response. I never thought about “review & revision”. I hope finger control is part of the program – I am a sloppy typist & it slows me down.

    BTW, full circle time. When I was in high school, the Academic kids (college-bound) had to take typing because we were actually going to be allowed to TYPE our term papers instead of hand writing them. Of course, that was de rigueur in college. “Review & revision” meant typing the same page several times, but at least it wasn’t re-writing by hand. Computers have made all the difference in the world & being able to type really speeds things up – as you are finding out. “Review & revision has never been so easy!

    However, don’t be too quick to give up on handwriting skills – I understand the essay part of college applications are now to be handwritten! Of course, certain areas of the job market still require legible handwriting. :>

  7. Ugh, not Mac compatible! We don't do Parallels. Bummer….

  8. For those of you who use a MAC we are in the process of rewriting our software to be MAC compatible. Unfortunately it won't be for a few months!
    I always find that someone has an old PC laying around the house somewhere. The nice thing about Keyboard Classroom is that it is a small program and will run on the older PC versions. So pick up the phone and you will be surprised how quickly you can borrow one!

  9. It's definitely a good skill to have and won't be forgotten, especially in this computer age. I learned to type on the old typewriters in 1988. The class lasted one semester. I didn't type again on a regular basis until 1997 for a job doing data entry. I was surprised that I still remembered it. Speed and accuracy suffered over those years, but quickly came back. It is skill worth learning.

    That said, I think Mom R. is right that penmanship is still important – even in my web-based company. Here is a person that advocates more handwriting: http://www.retrainthebrain.com/penmanship.html. I think more research needs to be done on the subject though. There's also issues in China where children are less likely to write their language. This evidently has caused the children to be unable to write and many characters (think words) are no longer used. The complaint is that the language is degrading because the younger generations haven't learned it as well.

  10. This is something I wish my kids had learned. Perhaps I'll look into it for my younger 2.

    Everyone in my high school was REQUIRED to take a year of typing (a twice-a-week class.) I signed up for Typing II since I knew full well I hadn't really done my best the first time, and I wanted to be good at typing for term papers and stuff. I am SO glad I did that.

  11. It's kinda funny when I go to conferences I hear the same story over and over again about how “we” learned to type in high school…One class in One semester. And whether we used the typing skill immediately or not it ALWAYS came back to us.

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