Keyboard Skills

'Keyboard skills' is just a fancy name for typing. Having tested the typing skills of many of our students, I am concerned that their typing technique leaves much to be desired.

  • Almost EVERY student pecks at the keyboard with one or two fingers from each hand
  • Typing speeds are MUCH slower than they could be, averaging between 5 and 20 words per minute whereas they could achieve 40-60 words per minute with motivation and practice.
  • Our students look at the keyboard as they type, since they are not familiar enough with the keyboard and since they are not using correct technique. Therefore they will not be able to spot mistakes immediately on the screen, nor will they be able to refer to printed documents as they type.

All this is worrying because it means the students are getting into bad habits that will ultimately limit their typing speed and efficiency. Even though I feel that typing correctly (with all fingers and, ultimately, without looking at the keyboard) is an important skill, I do not intend to spend any time teaching this in class, since it is both time-consuming to learn and straightforward to learn at home, provided the students are motivated to acquire this skill. Also, we have a mixture of French and English keyboards at school and there is no point in learning to become proficient using a keyboard layout that is not the one the student is likely to be using for the rest of his or her life.

Let's do the math... Assuming:

  • you you expect to live another 66 years (14 years old to 80 years old, for example)
  • you will spend one hour a day typing at the computer, on average (you'll spend much longer than this using the computer, of course, without actually typing). You will use the computer almost every day, whether you are at university, working, on vacation or retired.

then the number of hours you should expect to be typing on a computer during what's left of your life is 66 x 365 x 1 = more than 24 thousand hours!! If you can learn to quadruple your typing speed this year (as most of our students could do, since they are so slow) then that typing time would be reduced to 6 thousand hours so in other words if you spend say a hundred hours this year improving your typing technique and speed then you can save maybe 18 thousand hours later on! That's my idea of a good investment - 180 hours saved for each hour you spend learning and practicing good technique this year!

Maybe you're thinking you're too busy this year or not motivated enough - you'll do it later? NO - you will be much busier later and you will have bad habits by then that will be very hard to break!

Students: Get into good habits now and you will one day be able to type fast, like a professional typist.

Parents: Please persuade your children that this is a skill worth learning, even though it will be slow and frustrating initially. Encourage your children to practice regularly using typing tutor software, widely available commercially and probably also available as shareware (free to try, then you buy) or freeware.

At some point, you must decide whether you want to become proficient with an English (Qwerty) keyboard or a French (Azerty) keyboard - I don't think it is good to use both. If you have to type in French quite often then I recommend you use a French keyboard rather than an English one because it is much easier to type English on a French keyboard than French on an English keyboard, because of the accents.

Before you type

  • Good posture is important: adjust the keyboard height and the height of your seat until your forearms are parallel to the floor. The computer screen should be not too close and slightly below your eyes, so that you look down slightly at it. Bad news if you use a portable computer: your screen is attached to the keyboard so it is almost inevitable that the screen is lower than it should be - watch out for neck strain!
  • To avoid eyestrain due to reflections and glare, the computer screen should not have a window either behind it (too much contrast) nor in front of it (to avoid seeing the reflection of the window) - place the computer screen so that the window is to one side.

The basic principles of typing

  • Lightly rest the fingers of each hand on the middle row of letter keys (the 'home' keys). On an English keyboard, the fingers of your left hand should rest on the letters A, S, D, F and the right fingers on the letters J, K, L, :. Almost without moving the hands, each finger can then reach for a diagonal row of letters - e.g. the little finger of the left hand types Q, A, Z. The two pointing fingers must each look after 6 letter keys - the pointing finger of the left hand types R, F, V, T, G, B while the right pointing finger types Y, H, N, U, J, M. Either thumb can press the space bar. Don't worry about learning the top row of keys until you can type the letters well.
  • As you start to get a feel for the keys, try to look at the screen rather than the keyboard. Initially, you will find that typing with all fingers seems much slower than 'pecking' with a finger or two, but ultimately you will be glad you learned to type correctly for your typing speed will become much faster than that of your pecking friends!

The bad news

Have you ever wondered why so many of the keys you use most often (A, E, R, T, S etc) are placed under fingers of your left hand that you don't really like using? You may find this hard to believe, but your keyboard was designed to be hard to use, to stop you typing fast!! This is because keyboards were designed when people used typewriters rather than computers, and fast typing could cause the machine to jam. Computers are electronic rather than mechanical so there is no risk of them jamming, so why do we continue to use these hard-to-use keyboards? Why doesn't someone design a better layout? Well, someone has - his name is Dvorak but the easy-to-use Dvorak keyboard has never caught on even though it was invented years ago. You can guess why - the Qwerty keyboard is so widespread that people consider it the 'standard' that they are obliged to follow.

More advice

  • Avoid resting on your wrists while typing, and keep your wrists straight. Failing to follow this advice will make you more vulnerable to 'repetitive stress syndrome' and other problems.
  • Take frequent breaks from typing.
  • Keyboards that separate the left hand's keys from the right hand's keys, such as the Microsoft Natural keyboard, may encourage good typing technique.

A good site to get started

I recommend the site since it is free and the lessons are well-presented. In order for this site to track your progress you must provide a name and password but in fact these can be fake since they are only used to identify you, not to send you email. Just make sure then that you supply a name and email address that you can remember easily.

Other Links

Here are some more links to programs that should improve your typing speed and technique. All these programs are designed for use with a Qwerty (English) keyboard.

Mr. Ward will test your typing skills again at the beginning and end of the year in the lower grades. Good luck!