Primary Keyboarding Lessons to Enhance Writing Skills: An Ongoing Journey of Discoveries



By Kristi Rennebohm Franz Copyright July 2000




Our journey to meaningfully use new tools of technoogy in literacy lessons is generatively ongoing. The journey began several years ago, when Sunnyside School got its first computer lab and computers in the classrooms. When I began integrating keyboarding and word processing technology tools into literacy lessons for primary children to launch their literacy essential learnings, pedagogical discoveries quickly started emerging. It soon became evident that primary children were capable of using developmentally appropriate keyboarding software in ways that not only greatly unencumber the challenges children encounter developing writing and reading skills but also greatly enhance literacy teaching and learning! The pedagogical discoveries of using keyboarding and word processing software within meaningful writing lessons informed our classroom literacy teaching and learning practice in the following ways:

First of all, using large fonts on the screen provided an excellent visual tool for generating written text and then immediately printing text for reading.

1. Initially, during whole class, small group, and one-on-one language experience writing lessons, children generate the content of the writing and I typed the words. The children can see the words being built on the screen in choices of font and color that capture their attention. The use of the large fonts, along with their choices of color and style create an inviting visual environment for children's engagement in word morphology lessons. We can highlight whole words and parts of words to build graphophonic reading stategies. We can easily change letters to edit sound spellings into book spellings. After modeling the process of working with words on the screen, children eagerly welcome the opportunity to use the keyboard tools themselves!

2. When children are writing individually or in pairs on the computer, they like seeing their letters appear neatly on the screen in large fonts that are legible and readable.

3. Working with generating print in a written document for chidlren's writing and reading concept lessons is no longer encumbered by the limitations of physical handwriting, by the time it takes to neatly configure printed text by hand, nor by the tedious process of erasing pencil marks and rewriting. With clicks of the mouse and keyboard, we could quickly have text to easily edit and text to print multiple copies for rereading. Modeling and using the writing process became much more effective and efficient than it had been using the paper and pencil or even the classroom white board.

Secondly, with the tools of the keyboard, it was much easier to teach concepts of print skills to primary children when they are writing on the computer and when they are writing with pencil and paper!

Important concepts of conventions in print such as text being built from left to right and words in straight lines are modeled by the computer as children see the teacher type meaningful text onto the screen and as children use the keyboard to get their ideas into print. As children work on the screen to generate text, they see conventions of print for their ideas formatted by the computer, we are seeing them carryover concepts of formating conventions that they learn on the screen to when they write with pencil and paper. Understanding and use of print concepts including style, size, left to right directionality, straight lines and spaces between words are appearing much sooner in children's writing than seen prior to our having new tools of technology in the classroom!

One of the first evidences of earlier emergence of skills wih conventions of print was in primary chidlren's use of spaces between words. With young primary children who are using sound spellings in their first writing efforts, knowing where to put spaces between words is a challenging task. They are writing text from verbal and auditory cues of hearing themselves say the words they want to write. Verbal language does not separate words with pauses of time to indicate where to put spaces between words. We have to always work hard on teaching the concept of understanding what a word is in print, regardless of whether children are writing with pencil or paper or using the computer keyboard and screen to generate print. When writing with a pencil and paper, we instruct them to use a space as large as one index finger between their words. Unfortunately, all too often, as they are physically putting their finger on the page and using their pencil to create the first letter of a new word, they will often loose the word sequence continuity of their writing ideas.

By teaching primary children about the computer tool of the space bar, they can quickly get a space between what they thought were their words. Not only can they create spaces between words now without their thought continuity of consecutive words being interrupted, they can much more easily reread their generated writing on the screen because of placement of spaces between sounded out words! And they can more easily read the printed copy of their writing during teacher/child editing conferences!

Having taught primary children writing skills before we had tools of technology and now with technology, I can see that children are able to acquire the skill of putting spaces between their words much sooner with the tools of the computer than when developing writing skills only through pencil and paper writing. Interestingly enough, as they acquire skill in putting spaces between words using the computer for writing, that skill also quickly carries over to using spaces between words when going back to pencil and paper writing. Essentially, the use of the space bar tool accelerated the writing skill of primary children being able to spaces between their words!

Thirdly, the immediacy with which words can be put into writing using the computer, enables children to keep continuity of writing ideas. Using the tools of the computer keyboard, the focus of primary children's cognitive energy is on what they want to write more than on how they can or cannot configure letters by hand. Many a time, before we had computers, I had seen children labor over erasing their writing for so long that they would forget what it was they wanted to say once the erasing was finished. Many a time, children would bring up a piece of handwritten text for a writing conference only to struggle in rereading it to me because their writing was not clearly legible even to themselves. When the goal of our writing lessons was to improve skill in getting our ideas into legible, rereadable print, the tools of technology enable us to reach that goal far more effectively than writing by paper and pencil.



The tools of keyboarding software enables children to more quickly develop efficient and effective motor skills for getting their important ideas onto a page.

When our most important writing goal is to get meaningful written text about a topic we are studying and to learn the writing process, using the computer can be much more effective and efficient than using the traditional paper and pencil handwritng process. For writing with the computer to be efficient and effective, it made sense to me that children could do better when using efficient home row keyboarding than doing "hunt and peck" typing using only their index fingers. Amidst the ongoing debate about when to introduce young children to keyboarding skills, I decided to find out what was even possible with first and second grade children. By using a sequence of two keyboarding software programs, first Kid Keys by Davidson and then Type to Learn by Sunburst, we have been able to help primary children develop efficient enough keyboarding skills so that they can concentrate most of their cognitive energy on their writing ideas rather than having to devote most of their cognitive energy to configuration of letters at the loss of writing content.


Once or twice a week, the children practice keyboarding skills using keyboarding software for approximately fifteen minute lessons. At the end of each practice session, they print their typing scores. The scores show both words per minute and percent of accuracy. Those scores are kept in their writing portfolios along with their writing documents so as to track any correlations between improved keyboarding skills and improved length and quality of writing.


A. Spelling Words

The children have a keyboarding lessons in which they practice using their home row skills while copying writing topic spelling words into a spelling list document. For example, if our writing topic is about our local pond habitat observations, the children will practice using thier homerow skills on a spelling list of vocabulary they use in describing what they saw on their recent pond science field trip. One option is to have a copy of the spelling list on a document clip at each child's computer and the child copies each of the words five to ten times into a word document. This works well for second grade students. For first grade students, it works best to have the spelling list already typed into a word document and the child uses keyboarding skills to type each word five times again in the word document. each child writes his/her name and the date at the top of the document. When chidlren finish the spelling/keyboarding assignment, the documents are saved to their personal disks (or to a folder on the computer) and printed for verbal pratice of spelling words with classmates or as homework.

The purposes of the integrated keyboarding/spelling lesson are: 1) to practice home row skills in the context of writing meaningful words the children will be using in their writing; 2) to start to familiarize the children with book spellings and hence start developing spelling skills as they write the list themselves; 3) to have that typed list of spelling words that they typed themselves as a printed document to put on their document clip as they generate writing on a topic; and 4) to provide a bridge between using home row with words in the software program to using home row for words they will be using in their writing topics. These home row lessons seem to be playing a critical row in having children be able to use the keyboarding skills they acquire in a keyboarding software program into their actual writing activities on assigned topics.

B. Reading Texts

The children have a keyboarding lessons in which they practice using their home row skills while copying an excerpt from a reading text known to the students. The reading text is an excerpt that they know how to read from one of the following sources: 1) a classroom children's literature book; 2) an email message that was sentor received by the class; 3) a webpage published by the class. The pedagogical rationale of the keyboarding lesson using the above reading texts is to have the children practice using their keyboarding skills to type text which is meaningful to them. The goal is to provide a learning experience in which they can integrate their cognitive focus on keyboarding skillswith their cognitive focus on reading meaningful text with comprehension. This builds the integrated reading comprehension skills and keybaortding skills needed when they generate text during a writing assignment.

The reading text used for practicing keyboarding skills can be copied from a page of the text on a document clip or by having the reading text already in a word document. The number of times (and length of excerpt to be typed by each child is to type can be individualized fo eah child by the teacher depending on each child's developmental level of reading/keyboarding skills.



From the past three years of using computer technology tools for keyboarding lessons with primary children in parallel with using computer technology tools for lessons on the writing process, we are seeing improved efficiency and quality of writing. With a multiage class, where the children stay in our classroom for both first and second grade, we can watch their keyboarding and writing development. The results are very exciting! The children enjoy writing and are meaningfully engaged in generating writing about topics they are learning about in the classroom. Writing is infused throughout the curricula. By the end of second grade, most all the children have keyboarding skills that are proficient. At the same time, they are motivated to work on their handwriting skills. They know what legible print in different fonts looks like from their work on the computer and they strive for the same legibility in their handwriting. They know what straight lines, spaces between words, left to right sequence, and use of page space can look like from using the computer and they strive for the same writing production when writing by hand. By the end of second grade, the use of the keyboard unencumbers their ability to get their ideas into print whether writing on the computer and carries over into unencumbering their writing by hand with paper and pencil!

Within our primary classroom we continually to work on handwriting skills. It is a long process and one that must be apoproached carefully so as not to frustrate young children. We approach it as a wonderful aesethetic/kinesthetic/visual/tactile learning experience in which we take great care and pride to configure our letters carefully. The skills of handwriting and keyboarding are multiple versions of producing print on the page which both of which have purpose and value. We approach the computer keyboarding skills as an essential tool that effectively and efficiently produces documents of meaningful text for reading, sharing, and reflective thinking. We approach the handwriting skills as an essential calligraphy tool to also create documents of meaningful text for reading, sharing and reflective thinking!

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