BOLINGBROOK – Eighth-grade students at Jane Addams Middle School were focused on their keyboard strokes Wednesday morning in their applied technology class.
Except for the clacking of keyboards, the room was silent between their teacher’s instructions, as the 19 students typed word strings such as “ask all salsa” and “glad dad had half a salad.”
They were learning how to type, and the letters for all those words are found along the center line of the keyboard, known as “home row.”
In the past, typing was an optional course students could take, dedicated to the high schools. The phasing in of keyboarding to the middle-school level is a result of students being exposed to computers at an earlier age, and an attempt to get students to break bad typing habits early.
Breaking bad habits
Keyboarding is an essential skill students should learn earlier, said Roger Merritt, an applied technology teacher at Jane Addams.
Valley View School District 365-U used to offer typing instruction at the high-school level. But it also offered keyboarding as an option in the middle schools.
“It wasn’t until this year it officially became a part of the middle-school curriculum,” Merritt said.
Keyboarding is a small part of the applied technology curriculum at the middle schools. Students take the first three weeks to learn finger placement, correct posture and keyboard strokes. Then they practice their acquired skills as they learn about other computer applications.
“It’s rare for a kid to come in knowing how to type,” Merritt said. “They’ve established bad habits, so we try to rewire their brains.”
Eighth-grader Joshua Laforest said he has used computers since he was 5. It wasn’t until sixth grade when he learned some typing skills in an exploratory class.
“It’s really easy now,” Joshua said. “I started picking it up again two weeks ago here. Those old habits came back, but I really improved.”
Tammi Conn, Valley View’s director of career and technical education, said it is more difficult to break those bad habits in high school than in middle school.
“Students are exposed to technology more now than even 10 years ago,” Conn said. “We’re seeing students much more familiar to that technology.”
In addition to typing, Valley View has added other technological skills to its applied technology curriculum, including coding, photo editing software and game design.
The district also is phasing in Chromebooks, a type of laptop designed to use web applications and cloud-based storage.
This fall, all Joliet Township High School District 204 students received laptops. Other local school districts are at different points in bringing typing to students at an earlier grade level.
Joliet School District 86, which includes elementary and middle schools, doesn’t have a typing course. But Joliet Township High School District 204 does and is working with its feeder school districts – Troy, Joliet, Rockdale and Elwood – to align the technology curriculum, including keyboarding.
“We talk about this all the time,” said Dede Woodard, District 204’s curriculum director for career and technical education, about the progression of technological skills in the earlier grade levels. “This is the course down the road. In the future, our computer applications course [at the high school] is really not going to be necessary.”
Woodard said the district examines what skills freshmen are coming in with to determine how to adjust the curriculum. And she’s seeing more students come in with more knowledge about computer applications.
“It also depends on what technology is out there,” Woodard said. “Ten years ago, you never would have dreamed of using cellphones in the class. We adjust our curriculum every year in this area. You revise to stay current.”