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Control is the Goal


by Art Willer, M.Ed.

 Most of us agree that keyboarding is an important skill, but it can be a challenge to sort out what we are really trying to achieve in the keyboarding class. 
  When teachers are asked to define their goal in keyboarding instruction, it is natural to answer in terms of some standard of accuracy or speed or to say, "Type without looking at your hands." While these are reasonable measures of typing competence, they are not the goal of keyboarding instruction. 
 Speed, accuracy and typing without looking at your hands are products of effective keyboarding instruction. 
 Control is the goal. 
 A useful way to understand the difference between products and goals is to consider driving instruction. 
 As a sensible driving instructor, you begin by having the student adjust the car seat, the steering wheel and the mirrors. When you are both ready, you encourage the student to drive only at a speed where the student is safely in charge of the automobile. 
 In driving instruction, you don’t teach the student to drive quickly -- you teach control. Speed emerges as a product of that control. 
 The principles of driving instruction hold for keyboarding instruction. When people learn to control the keyboard, speed and the ability to type without looking at their hands, emerge as products of keyboard control. 
 When we accept that control is the goal, then it follows that racing games are not useful as a general means to teach keyboard skill. Racing games build tension and encourage people to lose control, not gain it. 
 This does not mean that all games are bad for keyboarding instruction. However, all activities in the keyboarding instruction curriculum including games must be evaluated from a control perspective: Does the activity encourage or discourage control and what do my students learn?  
 Keyboard control increases as students become conscious of how they can maximize their success. This is accomplished by experimenting with various typing conditions and having students assess how they affect the results. In their book How to Teach Keyboarding, authors Cheryl Cerri-Llamas and Frances Henderson suggest many activities that raise awareness of how students can increase or decrease their control of the keyboard. 
 For example, you might have students play a typing race game. This is not to learn to keyboard but to learn that racing and the tension that accompanies it, reduces control and produces poor results. You can also achieve this understanding by asking students to type as quickly as they can in a typing test or skill check. Cheryl Cerri-Llamas calls this burning up the keys. 
 UltraKey is designed to help you teach keyboard control. For instance, UltraKey lets students hide or show their typing as they take a skill check or typing test. Text is hidden using the Hide/Show button displayed above and to the right of the text entry window. 
 Students should not hide their typing until they have had sufficient practice to expect success. Just prior to using this feature, ask the students to speculate whether they think they will type better or more poorly when their typing is hidden. Most people expect to type more poorly when their typing is hidden. In all activities of this type, it is important that students have the freedom to speculate incorrectly and to type incorrectly. The goal is to learn control by experimenting. 
 When students hide their typing, they can no longer see their errors. So they are left to concentrate on what they are being asked to type and must rely on their fingers to locate the keys. If students have developed sufficient skill, they discover that letting their hands do the typing and forgetting about errors, usually results in better typing. They learn that their fingers can do the typing. Their confidence increases and so does their competence. 
 Insights into how certain techniques affect typing performance, gives students the knowledge to choose better techniques and to control the keyboard as a result. 
 The use of keyboard covers can be a helpful strategy for teaching control, but only if the covers are used with clear purpose and for limited times. Rather than thinking of covers as a means of forcing students to type without looking at their hands, think of covers as one more tool for teaching students that they really can type without looking. 
 In the learning stages and even among experienced typists, it is necessary to look at your hands from time to time. With effective keyboarding instruction, the need for and frequency of looking at your hands will reduce as control increases. Keyboard covers are an excellent tool to help students realize that they can actually type without seeing their hands. For this reason, covers should be used for limited periods of time and their use should be discussed with the students. Used properly, keyboard covers can help students increase confidence and therefore reduce the habit of looking at their hands. 
 Once you have explained the purpose of keyboard covers, give the students the option of using them when they want. In order for students to gain control, you must give them control and the understanding of how to use it. Granting the freedom to choose or not choose a keyboard cover teaches students to be aware of their typing environment and they should make certain decisions. 
 In summary, let's consider these guides for effective keyboarding instruction:  
 • Focus instruction on developing control. Let speed, accuracy, typing without looking at your hands, and safe keyboarding emerge as products of that control. 
 • Evaluate teaching strategies and learning activities as to how they teach control. 
 • Raise consciousness and maximize student buy-in by discussing with the students the purpose of each lesson and the insights that they gain as a result of each activity.  
 • Expect mistakes. Turn them into opportunities for discussion and insight into how control can be increased. 
 • Grant students control however limited so they can practice making good choices about their typing environment. 
 About the author: An educator by profession, Art Willer is the founding president of Bytes of Learning who publishes UltraKey the popular keyboarding instruction program for schools. Mr. Willer instructs teachers in the understanding of learning processes. He can be reached by writing: custservice@bytesoflearning.com