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The 3 Keyboarding Basics

Author: George Rhodes, Founder of The Keyboard Teacher.George Rhodes

Typewriting instruction at its inception was based on both speed and accuracy of keyboard input. William Book, the “father” of formal typewriting instruction, stated that the student should type as rapidly as he can with accuracy–a highly contradictory and confusing instruction guide.

Keying Speed. Speed of keying remains the basic goal of keyboarding instruction. This involves the quickness with which a specific key is associated with a specific finger–a mental, not a physical process.

Keying Accuracy. Accuracy instruction is not today, nor has ever been, a positive contributor to keyboard productivity. Teachers who have maintained and analyzed student error records are aware that errors per minute rates remain constant regardless of the length of instruction time. This figure is two errors per minute of keying activity for the average typewriting student–a single trial on copy of average difficulty. Again, the two errors per minute figure is applicable to a student who has been enrolled for only one week, as well as a student who has completed two years of typewriting instruction.

Students, or keyboarders, do become more accurate in their input, but only by increasing their speed; as accuracy remains constant, increased keying speed spreads the constant number of errors among an increased number of words. A student who keys 10 words per minute makes one error per five words; yet, a student who keys 60 words per minute makes one error per 30 words. Thus, the 60 WPM student is six times as accurate as is the 10 WPM student. Conclusion: the only way to increase keying accuracy is through increasing keying speed.

Now to review the educational research that relates to typewriting accuracy. In 1967, Dr. Jerry Robinson conducted an investigation of typewriting performance that included all Indianapolis public high school typewriting students. To analyze keysroke accuracy, Robinson measured keying errors at the end of 12 instruction weeks and repeated this measurement at the conclusion of each subsequent six week period. Robinson determined that for weeks 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36, student error rates remained constant–2.0 errors per minute. What does this say for the employment of classroom instruction drills that purport to increase the accuracy of keyboarding students? More significantly, why has keyboarding instruction permitted the continuation of the “accuracy myth”?

Keying Technique. After years of basing typewriting instruction upon keystroke speed and accuracy, a third instruction element was added–keystroke technique. Technique deals with the ideal execution of physical actions that affect keystroke productivity. These actions are based on a lengthy list of techniques, including the placement and movement of hands, feet, fingers, elbows, wrists, etc. Many proponents of technique instruction propose that only after “perfect” techniques are acquired should keystroke speed and accuracy instruction be added.

The theory of technique instruction is that “perfect” techniques bring forth high keyboarding speeds and minimal error rates. Unfortunately, the association of physical techniques with keyboarding output is correct–but backwards. High keystroke speeds spawn supporting physical techniques, not the reverse. For example, having a beginning student to “curve” his fingers in the manner of a 60 WPM keyboarder does nothing to increase his speed, but in fact hinders his natural development as uncurved fingers support keying rates up to 15 WPM. In contrast, to maintain physical pace at 60 WPM–five strokes per second–requires the keyboarder to coil his fingers in the mode of a fast striking rattlesnake. Conclusion: mental finger-key associations automatically elict the needed level of supporting physical techniques, while instruction efforts to unnaturally “hurry along” physical techniques is without merit, but markedly wasteful of classroom time.

To emphasize the negative contribution of keystroke accuracy and physical technique instruction in the development of a keyboarding skill, what could be more unproductive than for the teacher to instruct a novice student to keyboard without error, while striking the keys with all fingers tightly curved.

Having stated that the lengthy list of currently taught keyboarding techniques occur in “nature,” the writer would point out that a far more important instructor role is to maintain student enthusiasm and alertness. A student who operates the keyboard with alertness (or is the proper word enthusiasm?), performs far more effectively than can a student who exhibits “fake” keyboarding techniques. An enthused keyboarding student automatically exhibits an alert performance posture following a simple reminder to “get on his bike.” This statement was addressed to my keyboarding students as all had experience riding a bicycle and drew from their awareness that a balanced, alert posture was required to prevent a bicycle fall.

How does a teacher keep a class enthused? Foremost by viewing a keyboarding skill as a highly valued and worthy attainment; secondly, by basing the instruction process on game like elements; and, lastly, an ability to transfer the teacher’s positive perception to the involved students.

Throughout my teaching career, beginning typing and keyboarding instruction was my “fun” course. This perception came from the enthusiasm novice students exhibited as they rapidly moved from learning the keyboard, to a 10 WPM skill, then 20 WPM, 30 WPM, and on up the skill scale. Indeed, I appreciated the change of pace the skills based keyboarding course brought from a teaching schedule that largely consisted of academic subjects.

Although not classified as a true keyboarding technique, the student’s striking of each keyboard key with the correct finger is the basis of a productive touch keying skill–and thus the most important objective of keyboarding instruction. Keying speed, the essence of keyboarding skill, is based upon student classroom enthusiasm and the efficient application of all fingers in operating the keyboard.

The process of teaching 10 fingers to correctly strike some 35 keys does not seem a difficult undertaking. However, after the student has spent hours (and hours) “hunt & pecking” data through a computer into e-mails, engaging in computer based games, etc., the task become remarkably formidable. Then, add elementary and middle school students with their lack of self discipline to the classroom mix and the described formidable situation jumps to an even higher level.

Typewriting instructors taught true beginners, students who had not earlier formed typewriting “hunt & peck” habits. Student use of a typewriter in a home setting was extremely limited for two reasons. Foremost, few homes possessed an “expensive” typewriter, a device that was considered an office tool. Second, rarely was a student with privileged access to a home typewriter interested in using a machine that could only place inked letters on a sheet of paper. Thus, some 95% of beginning typewriting students were free of “hunt & peck” habits. In contrast, today’s prehigh school keyboarding students are 95% likely to possess a “hunt & peck” skill acquired from the use of their parent’s–or their own–home computer.

Today’s computer based keyboarding instruction is the opposite of typewriting instruction. In place of the relatively mature high school student who enrolled in typewriting without predeveloped “hunt & peck” skills, current keyboarding instructors must deal with elementary and middle school students who are habituated “hunt & peck” performers due to their unsupervised use of home computers. The traditional typewriting class was based on “beginning” instruction, while today’s keyboarding class is overwhelmingly a “remedial” activity.