Keyboarding Skills and the Common Core


You might not even notice it, tucked away as it is within one of the strands of the Writing elements of the Common Core, but there is a sentence in there that has me wondering. It reads, “…demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.”

The other day, I had my students type out a reading response on the computers, in part so that I could (again) remind them about how to leverage the tools of Microsoft Word (spelling, grammar, formatting) for their own writing. The response was to a standardized testing piece of reading (about siblings) and they had done a draft version the day before in their Writing Notebooks.

On this day, they began to type and I was curious to see their skills at the keyboard. It wasn’t so great. Some students took almost 45 minutes to write a single paragraph. Most were hovering over their keyboards (ergonomic alert!) with a single finger jabbing at keys, their eyes darting from paper to computer. When I asked how many had ever used any kind of keyboarding system, only a few raised their hands. Most of the programs were online games.


We don’t do our students any service by leaving out keyboarding from the school curriculum, and the ideal age is around second grade. I’ve talked about this with our principal on several occasions, and he agrees, but the money isn’t there to fit in a keyboarding class and the idea pales in comparison to the work we need to be doing around writing, reading and math (as evidence by our state scores). I try to make the point early and often, to students and parents, that keyboarding skills are helpful and for students with some writing challenges (particularly around spelling), it may open up doors to publishing that writing by hand won’t.


And there it is, in the Common Core and our own Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. In fourth grade, students should be able to produce one full page of writing in a single sitting; in fifth grade, it is two pages; from sixth grade on up, it is three pages. If our work the other day is any indication, it would take hours for my students to type out three pages of original work.

The question of why that standard is there is not quite obvious, but I suppose we can make the assumption that whatever assessment (PARCC or whatever) coming down the road will have some sort of extended writing pieces in which students will have to spend a considerable amount of time at their keyboard. Maybe even hours. Be ready for it!

Peace (in the keys),


  1. Good catch! I will be watching my students type this week to see how they do. I watched one student hunt and peck the other day and I made some content about it…only to be told he was just being careful with putting in a password. I didn’t get to see him typing after that because they were navigating a site, not typing.

    I never had a keyboarding class – I learned how to type on my own the summer I turned 19. I do okay, but I wish I’d had a keyboarding class. It wasn’t a requirement so I took other classes in high school. It wasn’t offered any earlier than that at middle or elementary levels.

    Keep pitching it. It’s best for them to have it early. Writing isn’t going away. Nor are computers.

  2. As an elementary school teacher this is something I’ve thought about quite a bit. When I taught 4th/5th grades I did not teach my students to write in cursive. I wrote things in cursive to ensure they could read cursive, but I did not spend any time teaching them to do write it. If they wanted to learn they did so on their own.

    As a first grade teacher I spend some time teaching my students to form letters. I spend about the same amount of time (on average 20 minutes per week) with them playing Type to Learn to help them learn keyboarding skills. Most of my kids do not leave me with great facility on a keyboard. They do typically, however, leave me able to form their letters correctly. They get a lot of meaningful practice with that skill. How much time should we dedicate to keyboarding in order for them to become proficient?

    We don’t teach students to text but they become quite skilled at that. If we give students access to computers and opportunities to do real writing on them, do you not believe they will become proficient typists over time? I think our students would be better served by having meaningful activities on computers (including using Word or blogs) for which they will type than spending very much time on keyboarding practice.

  3. Hi Kevin –
    I was a member of the 2010 ELA standards committee in Minnesota. Because our standards were up for revision and the then-governor Tim Pawlenty was the poster child for Common Core/NGA, we, of course, were adopting the Common Core. But we did some additions as well (though no one was sure what 15% meant: words? standards? benchmarks?).

    At any rate, we started our work before the Common Core was finalized. The standard on typing was originally in the 6-8 band and at first was about publishing. (paraphrased here) 6th grade students will publish one page of writing on the internet; 7th grade – 2 pages; 8th grade – 3 pages. Then these standards (which were stupid anyway. What’s a “page” on the internet?) were replaced in 6-8th grade by typing 1, 2, 3 pages at one sitting — again, STUPID! If they are drafting on the computer, most would never write that much in the class time allowed (unless they were using a ginormous font). And if they are typing from a handwritten draft, isn’t that about keyboarding and not WRITING and shouldn’t it then be about revision?
    The 6-8 stupid second version standard was replaced in all three grades by:
    Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
    MUCH BETTER — sorry to see that they just moved one of the stupid versions to grades 4 & 5.

    p.s. Here’s what Minnesota added to this standard
    a. Independently select writing topics and formats for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks.

    • That’s interesting, Sandy, and who knows what the real history behind the standards might be (well, someone somewhere has a track change version, I am sure). Thanks for the insights — and commentary.

  4. Interesting points, Kev. I’ve always looked back on my junior high school touch typing class as one of the most valuable I ever took — along with “Cafeteria Math.”

    I developed a whole curriculum around teaching string games as a way to develop the strength and dexterity for keyboarding. I really think 2nd grade is too early–even at third grade the digital (in the root sense) facility is inadequate in many kids.

    We use UltraKey in the Watsonville schools, which has some good individual progress tracking algorithms built-in, and has the least “game-glitz” overlain of the keyboarding programs I know. But most of the kids are lucky to get even 20 minutes a week to practice.

    My first digital story was a passionate plea for keyboarding skills– “A String Epiphany.”

    I think the key is giving kids opportunities to write things they are truly motivated to write–that’s the premise of initiatives like the Maker collaboration, to get students doing things they care about, and then leveraging that enthusiasm. I would imagine that your game design efforts yield similar fruits.

    • I’ve known about your use of string games, Fred, but I had not made the connections to keyboarding skills. So, your video was quite interesting to consider. Thanks for sharing

  5. Hi Kevin, Got brought back here by a notice of Tim’s comment, which perhaps was meant as humorous, but actually is wide of the mark: the hand-brain connection is crucial to developing creativity and critical thinking, and increased dexterity is a brain-enhancer! I’ve started a Youth Voices project on “string games and creativity”:

  6. Humorous to a point. I studied piano at an early age and I recognize the efficacy of hand to brain activities. My sarcasm is directed toward the extraordinary amount of resources – both human and financial – expended on yet another way to organize academic content. Each and every student has a unique learning envelope that each and every teacher needs to push. If a teacher plays to the student’s strengths, the gaps will fill in over time. And remember, a good mathematician and teacher, for example, with real-world credentials already knows what students need in math and how to help students learn in their unique and varied ways – or should I say modalities. Give me 1/100th of the money spent on the Common Core and 2 hours more each day to tutor math and my kids won’t need the latest curriculum du jour! Sorry if this puts any policy wonks and non-teaching professionals out of work.

  7. Hey Kevin,

    It’s now a year since you checked out your students’ keyboarding ability with Common Core in mind and I was wondering “is your class now ready for it?”.

    I am an Australian and our Prime Minister announced at the end of last year that she wants all students to study an Asian language at a cost of $100 million a year and 80 minutes every school day, a huge investment.

    Currently, keyboarding’s not even on the Australian elementary school curriculum, so the US is miles ahead of us in the keyboarding department. Our Grade 4 students still “hunt and peck”.

    In this economic climate, if our Prime Minister wants to leave her “mark” in education, she would do vastly better to invest in a skill that will double student productivity in school and outside in the real world . . . and that is keyboarding.

    I actually have a vested interest in keyboarding. I sell an innovative keyboarding method and I have offered it to the Australian Government for $1million full stop (heaps cheaper than $100 million a year): it is so cheap, it takes just 2 hours out of an already crammed curriculum and requires no teacher training whatsoever, anyone can teach the method! Plus, there’s no risk! The left side of the keyboard is free for the Education Department to trial in as many classrooms as they like.

    As Fred says, it’s so cool to type fast and it frees your mind. Also, do you think about riding a bicycle? No, it’s a muscle-memory skill: once you “get it”, you’ve got it for life. Touch typing is also a muscle-memory skill; once the students “get it”, they’ve got it for life – this means no more keyboarding classes.

    Nail It Now

  8. Another bureaucrat trying to leave a “mark” in public education. Funny, the more things change, the more they stay the same…I learned my keyboarding skills in middle school back in 1963…does anyone remember, “now is the time for all good men…?” Oh yes, there was no common core back in 1963…almost forgot!

  9. Hi Everyone,
    In our elementary school we start keyboarding in 2nd grade with a program called Kids Keys. It’s a fun interactive program that shows kids the proper finger placement. In third grade through sixth grade we use a program called Type to Learn 4. It’s a a great program where the students work at their own pace, but I reward them for finishing a lesson. There are 36 lessons. The last 4 or so focus on the “extra” keys. So I break it down and try to get third grade to finish lessons 1-7, then fourth 8-13, etc. Hoping that they get to at least 28 by the end of sixth grade. In this world of technology and the trend going to on-line testing, the sooner they begin keyboarding, the better. I do find that second grade is a good grade to begin before bad habits set in.

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