What One Comment On “Teaching Typing” Created …

On Thursday morning, I had the pleasure of listening to Richard Byrne‘s keynote speech at #BIT14. While the auditorium was packed, and I couldn’t quite get inside to grab a seat (of course, I¬†had to stop for a coffee before heading inside ūüôā ), I heard some wonderfully inspirational words just by standing at the doorway. It wasn’t long before I tweeted a comment about typing that led to a couple of different¬†discussions online with friends at the conference.

Click on the images to make them larger.

¬†It’s time to confess here. In my 14 years with the Board I have,

  • Used online typing programs.
  • Given spelling tests.
  • Used formal printing programs.
  • Not taught cursive writing, but probably would have if I taught Grade 3.
  • Used math textbooks and workbooks in many grades and with many students.
  • Photocopied more blackline masters than you can imagine. (In fact, I will leave it up to all of the great math minds out there to figure out how many forests I killed based on all of the paper I wasted. There must be a proportional reasoning problem in here somewhere. ūüôā )

And I now make the choice to stand up and speak loudly about why to reconsider all of these options. I’m not saying that I do not believe in the value of many of these skills. I’m just reconsidering how I would and do teach them.¬†

  • I type all the time, but I’ve never taken a keyboarding class. I can type up to 85 words a minute though, and using a maximum of four fingers (up to three on my left hand and one on my right). I’ve learned to type by doing. I type all of the time. I find that I can formulate my ideas better on the computer. I’ve had up to 19 blogs, and I update my professional blog and my class blog on a regular basis. Typing for me isn’t about the act of actually banging on the letters, but the act of writing to share ideas. Because I want to write in this way, and am engaged by what I can share, I’ve learned to¬†type faster.¬†Yes, if students are going to be using devices, they need to learn how to communicate on these devices, but does typing need to be taught in isolation? How can you¬†help all students master these typing skills?
  • I gave spelling tests when I taught my 1/2 class because everyone else was doing so, but then I found out that they didn’t work.¬†Students could memorize the words for my once-a-week test, but they weren’t spelling these words correctly in their writing. Also, all of the students were at different levels. Some students already knew how to spell the words on the test, and other students, were still struggling with the letters of the alphabet. How was it fair to expect the same from everyone? While spelling is a curriculum expectation, it’s a specific expectation under Writing, and memorized spelling is not a requirement. With this in mind, I made a change. We started adding words to the word wall and working with spelling patterns to focus on the thinking behind the spelling. Blogging also helped students get better at spelling, as they were writing for an authentic audience, and they knew that they would get more comments if people could understand what they were saying.¬†It’s not that spelling shouldn’t be taught, but is the test necessary? If it is, how can you differentiate it to meet the various student needs?
  • I know that students need to learn how to form the letters of the alphabet (be that through printing or cursive writing), but again, I see the value in creating these authentic printing and writing opportunities.¬†Earlier this year, I spoke to a wonderful educator that gave me some meaningful printing activities to help me out. We worked on creating signs. For example, when our snail went missing, up went the “missing signs,” and students needed to print the words correctly to help others understand the message. We started labelling items around our classroom. Students labelled supplies, book bins, various objects, and lots of furniture. Again, letter-formation mattered, as students wanted others to be able to read what they wrote. We wrote stories for each other and for other classes in the school. Students wanted to share their work with others, but they knew that people needed to be able to read what they wrote. This is when we could focus on printing. Small group instruction helped too. During guided reading, we read various texts, looked for letters and words in these texts, and then printed some of these letters and words on paper and on whiteboards. I could provide instruction at this point, but the printing aligned with the learning.¬†How could you make printing and writing meaningful in the classroom? What options exist beyond printing and writing books?
  • I used math textbooks and workbooks until I started engaging online and in-person with amazing math educators that helped me see the value beyond these resources.¬†Thanks to Kristi Keery-Bishop, Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, and the #peelmathchat crew, I started to realize the value in real world problems. I started to see how we could teach skills through problem solving. I began to question why everyone needed to do the same set of questions and problems if they had different math strengths and needs. I began to wonder if textbook and workbook problems allowed for multiple entry points, and if not, what did this mean for my students with various learning needs?¬†A textbook or workbook can be a resource, but does it need to be the only resource? Why do we need to rely so heavily on these resources, and what other options are there?
  • I used to think that everybody needed a copy of everything, but now I’m questioning this.¬†At our school, each teacher gets a box of paper to use for printing and photocopying. I’m new at the school though, and the boxes weren’t delivered right away. I could have asked for some paper, but I’m beginning to think that often things happen for a reason. Without the multiple packages of paper to use, I really started reconsidering what I needed to photocopy. Instead of making tally charts for students, they constructed their own. Instead of creating fancy writing paper for students to use, they picked the paper that worked best for them. Instead of handing everybody a copy of an assignment that would likely get lost, I wrote up one copy to have at the front of the room, and just handed out individual copies to those students that needed it. The only thing that I photocopy each week is our shared reading text, so that students can have a copy to use as we read. The text is one page, and I make no more than one copy per student. Basically, I make less than 20 photocopies per week, and by doing so, I think that my Grade 1’s have learned how to create and write more on their own. Over two months of limited photocopies have changed my practices.¬†How would they change yours? What do you need to photocopy, and what could you do without?

I know that there are exceptions to every rule. That’s what differentiated instruction is all about. In the past though, when I engaged in any one of these practices, it was for all students. Now I can’t help but wonder …¬†

  • Are there other options?
  • Do all students need to develop skills in these ways?
  • How could changes to our approach change student learning?
  • As a teacher, parent, support staff, or administrator, what are¬†your experiences with these topics and how have they changed over time?
  • What kind of teaching and learning environment would you like to see for students, and why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these many questions that came from just one tiny comment in Richard Byrne‘s speech.


8 thoughts on “What One Comment On “Teaching Typing” Created …

  1. Aviva,

    I LOVE THIS POST! Yes I am sorry I wrote that all in caps but I am nodding and agreeing and shouting with excitement. I too must admit to many of the things that we say no too. Evolution is a must that all teachers and students have to go through. When we first start out we often do things because that was the way that it has always been done but if we are to become better at our jobs we must honestly reflect on our practise and why things are being done.

    I also admit that I still do spelling tests but now I have changed it. Now each week students learn words from their writing, they have to look up the definition of the words, search for the meanings from their writing, practise them and then they administer their own tests. Now I am still giving a spelling test but students are running the work. They are researching, it means something to them and hopefully they will learn the words a little better.

    Goes back to the conversation about assessment. We have various learners and learning styles, is on method the best teaching for everyone? No. We as teachers need to flow and adapt with the needs of our students and with the way that the world is changing.

    I also think that we forget the importance of learning in context. We forget as adults how we actually aquire skills and knowledge. What we take for granted as basic skills was something that took years. We often don’t realize this until we have to learn something new. How hard do we struggle, until someone gives us the right push. How many errors do we make? But it is through the errors, the struggles, the desequalibrium that we learn and memorize as we play. This is the same for kids. Even the rote skills we so desperately are calling for a return of, are learned through practise in play. Note I did not say practise as in worksheets. The reason why kids don’t have a good retention in those skills they haven’t had enough time to play. I think this might be another blog post about practise through play and context. Need more research though to back me up.

    I will get off my little soap box here, but really love Your thoughts. Thanks again for Sharing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan! I really hope that you find the data to support your “practice through play” thoughts. I agree with you too, and would love to find more research to support this. With the move towards inquiry and even the Full-Day Kindergarten Program document, I’m sure that there must be support for this kind of learning. It makes so much sense to me!

      I really like the way that you deal with spelling tests. At this point in Grade 1, most of my students are spelling using letter-sounds with just a few familiar words. I’m really trying to push that they use the word wall and the Popcorn Words to spell the sight words correctly. As the year goes on, I hope that more students will move towards more conventional spelling. Versus a spelling test though for them (regardless of how it’s done), I’d really like for them to play with words, notice the spelling patterns in words, and see how one word can help them spell other words. The Class Act Kit that I use as part of guided reading helps with this, and I’ve been linking the learning to those in different texts, to help provide context. I think this context is so important.

      I love hearing about the changes that you’ve made over time, and a conference like ECOO, allows us to meet with so many other educators that speak about “changing.” What about those people that are reluctant to change though? How do you help others see the value in trying something new? And how do you help others feel comfortable with reflecting on their practices and looking closely at what can be changed? This can be so difficult.


      • Hi Aviva,
        Your thoughts are always inspiring and makes me think. My grade 1 students came with an idea of choosing three words from their Snuggle book and writing them on the index cards. Now we have 15 different zip lock bags with 45 sight words in them. They feel a sense of belonging and take a bag everyday to practice and enjoy it. I believe that giving them a sense of ownership always helps.
        Thanks for inspiring me with your ideas and thoughts everyday.

        • Thanks for your comment, Hema, and for sharing your Grade 1 students’ ideas! I really like this idea. Do they write these words at home or at school the next day? How do they practice them? Have you seen carryover with the spelling of these words in their writing? I was just thinking that I really need to continue to build on sight word recognition skills for my students. This might be a nice carryover between reading and writing.


  2. Hi Aviva,
    I really like your comment about the photocopying. As a planning time teacher in FDK I have photocopied for 90 students less than 30 copies since Sept. We use the iPad as a way of documenting our learning and create videos and pictures together. I print these pictures to share with their teachers and email the teachers the videos/tweet them out. When we need to create something on paper they tell me how it should be designed and then use their ideas to make their paper unique. I love how as you said they write more and also have more interest in what they are doing because it is their own template vs one I have found. It adds to the rich learning environment just by a simple elimination of what I hand out vs what they can do on their own. I also see the students take more ownership over what they do.
    Your blog had me reflect on photocopies and as I continue my teaching career I will keep in mind “what do I really need to hand out to everyone?” Plus, students can differentiate themselves how they want the paper to look, which can be more appealing to their own learning style.
    Thanks again for your post.

    • Thanks for the comment, Maggie Fay! I love hearing about your experiences as a prep coverage teacher, and I love that you’re giving students these rich learning experiences. As I read your comment, I started to think about what I do photocopy every week. Since my shared reading text is posted on our class blog, do I need to photocopy one for each student? Sometimes we use this shared reading text during guided reading or other small group activities, but maybe creating about 8 folders that people could share would be a better option. Then I have some copies for students to use, but not wasted paper that they’re really not using.

      Thank you for continuing to make me thinking of new options as well!

      • Thank you Aviva! Good luck creating 8 folders that people can share vs photo-copying a shared reading text for each student. I hope this works for you and if it doesn’t then at least you know what works best. I love how your blog always makes me reflect on my own teaching and helps me develop as an educator. I’m thinking your reflection on photo-copying might even have a math question in there for the students to tackle!

        • Thanks for the reply, Maggie! I’m curious to see how this goes too. I think that I’ll give this a try, and then I can always change the plan if needed. Right now, I really wonder how often each student is using his/her own folder, so if we can save on paper, this new plan makes sense to me. And you’re right about the math problem. I wonder what kind of question might work for Grade 1’s!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *