Keyboarding, Please

Recently, while getting a yearly checkup with one of my doctors, he stopped during the middle of updating my information and asked, “You’re a teacher, right?”

After I answered in the affirmative he continued: “Do you want to know, out of all my years of education, including medical school as well as all my other advanced degrees, what the single most important class is that I ever took? The one I use what I learned every single day? Keyboarding.”

He said this as he stood in front of the computer cart he wheels from room to room, typing in updated information and notes about current complaints. It was a serendipitous moment for me, because I had just been making the observation at the school where I worked that our students with a laptop accommodation often couldn’t use it properly to compensate for their dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other learning disability. At the time, I was focused on the need for students with learning differences to take a keyboarding class, but the truth is that all students could not only benefit from taking a typing course, but are probably suffering from a lack of ability to type accurately without one.

When I left the public school system in 2010 keyboarding classes were still offered, but they were far from mandatory, and a lot of students avoided them. I know I was guilty of assuming that, because the students had clearly been using computers since they were children, they had already developed the ability, and it seemed a lot of people around me assumed the same. This was at a time students were still disallowed access to cell phones during the school day, so the extent to which students bypass computers and laptops almost entirely in favor of their smartphones was not as evident to me then as it was when I returned to teaching after graduate school – to this day, I am still amazed at how many students insist on using their phones for everything they can get away with using them for; checking school email, accessing the library’s databases, reading uploaded teacher notes, and even typing them. No wonder when they’re forced to type an essay on a computer, they move at a snail’s pace and take what feels like days to hunt-and-peck their way through the process – they are literally tapping out responses to everything they say, and rarely, if ever, really typing.

This lack of keyboarding ability not only slows them down, but it drastically affects their ability to think about what they’re saying, because they’re concentrating so much on what they’re doing and how to hit the proper keys. Typing should be second nature to them by the high school years, so they can hammer out ideas quickly and move into the rough drafting and editing phases, but more often than not I found trying to work with a student as he or she typed out an essay to be an almost torturous experience, and I admit to often allowing kids to hand-write just to move the process forward. Sure, I had a handful who came to me with a typing class under their belts, and they all carried and used their laptops consistently, but those kids who’d never learned how continued to choose hand-writing responses and essays to typing whenever possible, and the struggle to read those responses (or worse, their notes, if that’s what they were writing) caused them way more frustration than taking a typing course ever could – even if it sounds like a boring or unnecessary class to take.

It’s downright tragic that a student with a learning disability is unable to utilize a technology that can be so helpful to them because of the keyboarding issue, and I now make sure to emphasize the importance of it to those students and their parents. But honestly, I should be recommending it to all students, because any kid who gets out of high school without really learning to use the keyboard on a computer is going to be at a disadvantage when they get to college. It might not be what you want to use an elective credit for, but if you don’t believe me, take it from my doctor – it will be the most valuable elective you ever take!

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