Beyond Keyboarding: Authentic Writing and the Common Core

Posted by Will Kimbley on February 10, 2014

Old typewriter keyboardAs a county office educational technology consultant, one of the hottest topics I am asked about is how to build student technology skills so they will be ready for Common Core standards and assessments. While the concept of the digital native continues to exist, the practical experience of educators giving them the SBAC practice exam is that students struggle with keyboarding and other computer skills. Students as young as kindergarten are expected to use “a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing,” and by 4th grade they are expected to have the “keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” So, how are they going to do that? There are a number of free online tools that students can use to learn and practice keyboarding skills. However, is rote practice of keyboarding the best solution?

With Common Core we are moving away from rote practice and memorization of basic skills in content areas, why should we stick with that approach when it comes to keyboarding? In a previous position as a 7th grade computer applications teacher, I began teaching keyboarding as an isolated skill, but I soon realized that unless my goal was to produce a cadre of stenographers, I needed to change my focus. I had students create blogs, and gave them five minutes each day to write it. At the beginning of the year they were required to produce one paragraph, by the end of the year they were writing three to four paragraphs.

“This is the start of my first novel.”

Over the course of each year I watched not only their keyboarding skills, but their writing grow by leaps and bounds. At first I had them write about things they learned in other classes and engage their metacognitive skills about the learning process. They described what they learned and reflected on what strategies they, and their teachers, used to help them understand. As a strong proponent of offering students choice, I began Free-Write Friday. Students could write whatever they wanted—songs, poems, narrative, stories. The first Free-Write Friday two students wrote, “This is the start of my first novel” and each week afterwards they wrote another part! Giving students an opportunity to blog and write authentically was one of the best things I ever did for my class. It gave my students a voice. I learned more about their capabilities and skills than I did through any other assignment.

We soon began focusing on Common Core writing strategies. One key focus of Common Core is claims and evidence in writing, so I began having students incorporate that into their blog posts. They were given prompts that focused on science, math, and history. Students had to take a position on a topic, such as the cause of the fall of the Mayan empire, and support it with evidence from their history class. Student skills at keyboarding were developed naturally through authentic writing experience. Even more importantly, students developed critical thinking skills and writing abilities. While you can certainly develop student computer skills through rote practice, consider engaging them through authentic writing and assignments.