November 6, 2013

Dear Otto: Is it important that students use all fingers when typing?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from SueAnn:

Dear Otto,

As the common core is dictating that keyboarding be taught at lower grade levels and to enhance the abilities of our students to type for longer periods of time and to develop writing skills, do believe that words per minute and accuracy is more important than correct fingering? or vise versa? We have many students that can type 35 WPM at 95% accuracy or better but do not use the correct fingering. As the technology teacher in my elementary school, I walk around when the students are doing their typing drills and encourage them to use the correct fingering during their practice time, I teach the correct fingering, we play games to learn the correct fingering we sing songs to learn the correct fingering but when they actually apply these skills in word processing I notice that their fingering is not being used correctly.

In our district we have been teaching correct hand placement and keyboarding in K-2 for several years. Starting earlier is not the issue, in my eyes. I believe that with the advent of texting and the basic issue that we do not have enough time to have formal keyboarding time on a daily basis leads to this issue. What are your thoughts? How important is correct fingering? Do you have ideas on how to help with proper fingering?
My 2nd question is: do you believe that word processing and typing are two different things? And if so, how do we get our students to transfer these skills? As I stated earlier, I can get my students to type 35 WPM with 95% accuracy during a drill, but to have my 6th graders sit down and type to a prompt in a word processing document for 3 pages off the top of their heads is an entirely different task. One that needs many repeated trials. I believe the second has very little to do with keyboarding and much to do with sentence structure, paragraph development, language skills and time. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any ideas on how to make the leap from typing drills to word processing?
I do think using the correct fingers is important. I discuss this as ‘using the finger closest to the key’ and ‘no flying hands or fingers’ to get students to think about there’s a right finger for the key. They wouldn’t use just any finger playing the piano (so many youngers play piano, it’s a good analogy) or violin. Keyboarding is the same. To be most efficient and effective requires appropriate skills. The majority of my top keyboarders do it with skill–and then exceed 45/55 wpm. There are levels of knowledge in keyboarding: 1) knowing where the keys are. That gets students faster than 20wpm. If they don’t know key placement, they will have trouble hitting 20 wpm. Your students at 35wpm definitely know where all the keys are. 2) knowing skills–posture, hands and fingers placement, that sort. That enables students to touch type (hard to touch type when your eyes have to find the key), which pushes speed up tremendously.


Having said that, I do lose the battle at times. There are those students who fly across the keyboard with that gorgeous clackity-clack sound and use just a few fingers. I’ll call that ‘differentiation for students’. Some students excel in their own way. Most students require direction/guidance/scaffolding.

I teach correct fingering much as you’re doing. I also do finger exercises so they see that all fingers work (check out Nimble Fingers for these). I interview top keyboarders and post it to the class blog so students see in that person’s words how they type so fast (which usually equates with all fingers).

I am always reminding students that typing on Dance Mat Typing or a speed quiz is not what I teach them keyboarding skills for. It’s about how they use them in their lives. We make a big deal of this transfer of knowledge about once a month. To truly get it to work requires the buy-in of all stakeholders–class teachers, parents included. If the classroom teacher will reinforce good typing habits when students are on computers (and you’re not there), this makes a big difference. If parents will also do this, now students are getting that reinforcement from all parts of their life. In my experience, it’s easier to get parents on board than other teachers. Maybe that’ll change with Common Core.

More articles on keyboarding:

Essential Guide to K-8 Keyboarding in 45 Minutes a Week

Common Core Breathes Life into Keyboarding

Dear Otto: What are Common Core keyboarding standards?

Handwriting vs. Keyboarding–from a Student’s Perspective

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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