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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Group Goals, Blogging, My Amazing semester in keyboarding



This semester's anomaly
I have been perplexed with a question: after teaching keyboarding for a while, I have found that most of my classes average around 45 gwam and I have set as a goal for all of my students to break 30 gwam. That is until this semester.

This semester, after 10 weeks of teaching my class average is over 70 gwam (gross words per minute) and every student is already over 50 gwam. Why?

This is particularly interesting in the fact that last semester I had one of a pair of identical twins and this semester I have the other one. Needless to say, they are very similar but one typed 13 gwam (last semester) and this semester the other twin is over 50 gwam. Something has changed!

Coming from an engineering background, I like to understand the factors that compose this equation. I've been making notes of how I have taught differently, but I asked them today,

"What motivates you to hit such high typing speeds?"


Here is what they said:

"We love the timed writings. They make us faster and you can see yourself get better."

"We like setting group goals, it gives us an incentive to do better."

"We 'egg each other on' to improve because we want to reach the higher goals. We encourage each other to go faster."

"The individual goals don't get me excited. I like the group incentive that makes me want to improve."

"It's because we have a great, enthusiastic teacher." (I just had to include that one, ha ha!)

AS much as I'd like to take all the credit the fact is the teacher is the same between the semesters.

Setting Group Goals
Some things have changed, this is the first time I have used a group goal setting technique that I've been pondering for a while. Group goal setting is a fine balance. You want everyone to know that they contribute. You do not want people who are at the "low end of the totem pole" to feel any less important or validated. You want to motivate not demotivate!

Here is why I think they are so successful:
  • Consistency
Timed writings happen very day 5-6 minutes a day. Five days a week. Even if we're doing something "fun" or different we still do our timed writing!
  • Group Goals.
This group goal makes it so the upper end really appreciate the lower end. It is difficult to keep up a high pace. Sometimes the boy who types 110 gwam+ has an "off" day and only types 90. When the lower student bumped from 25 gwam to 40 gwam that same day, he received a big high five and "thank you" from the faster typist. They see their interdependence and how they win as they all improve!
  • A visual depiction of group results.
I have a spreadsheet that I use to average the gwams. I also have a chart that graphs the group scores. They see how they drop on Mondays (after they haven't had practice) and how they steadily rise within the week. This motivates them to type on the weekends and to make up their work when they miss.
They understand what causes them to increase. When they go up significantly, I have them share why they think it happened. At the beginning, I also talk about how the brain makes connections when they repeat correct behaviors. They can see this happening and understand how new skills are learned! What a great lifetime lesson.

  • Incentives and rewards.
I do rewards like a "fun" day of Typershark. Typershark is a free popcap game that encourages fast typing. They love it. It is fun to them but works on the skills from my perspective. Everything must have an objective and go towards the goals I have set for my classes.

  • They type with their monitors off and my eyes on them.
I like typing with their monitors off because otherwise students are constantly double checking with their eyes and often cut their time in half. I also watch their eyes to make sure that they are keeping their eyes on their books. They feel whether they are on homerow by the "nobs" on the j and f.

  • Public "bragging" via the blog.
All of my students hinge upon the same teacher blog, mine. So when I blog about their results, they receive notice from other students who, quite honestly, are a little jealous of their fast typing.

  • This class is blogging.
The move from typing text in a book to typing "from top of mind" is an important one because much of composition happens actually while on the keyboard. We had been keeping journals in previous semesters to do this, however, we have switched to blogs.

The class enjoys it! It is cool! Journals were very uncool!

The fact that they must enter information daily to have the current date is an incentive for consistent posting. The bane of teachers who grade journals is the fact that students write all of their journal entries in a rush, backdating them, and missing the point. Blogs neutralize this habit! This is not as directly related but has worked to make keyboarding one of the exciting classes the eighth graders take.

  • I am blogging
I am more excited. I am reading about the work of other teachers. I am bringing new things into the classroom that work. I am a more motivated, more educated teacher. I have learned more from my bloglines since November than I've learned in the more than 60 hours of PLU training I've had in the past two years!

Keyboarding is the next progression of writing.

After a student colors, prints in Denilian, and then writes in cursive, a student should learn to keyboard.
Yes, voice recognition is around the corner, but its not here yet. Students should learn to type at a young age, when their hands are of the right size but AFTER they know cursive. (Otherwise they don't correctly and completely learn handwriting, in my opinion.)

We're looking at keywriter systems for teaching typing and I'm excited about the opportunity. However, I am cautious.

When students are "self taught" there is an intrinsic risk of poor technique. With poor technique, students will go slower and give up lifetime productivity gains. There is a big difference over a lifetime in 30-40 gross words per minute. Try at least 30 extra minutes for a 400 word paper!

It is doing a disservice to students to have them blogging when they cannot even type. I know from experience, that once they learn to type visually, it is almost impossible to teach them to touch type. For this reason, I taught my own children as they exited the third grade over the summer. I used Mavis Beacon but also used Speed Skins to cover the keys and monitored them for technique as I watched them type.

Now my kids blog.

I have students who transfer into my high school classes from other schools who have never had typing. They cannot keep up. It is unfair. We now screen students that enter and ensure that they can type at least 30 gwam, otherwise, they go back to 8th grade keyboarding.

It is hard for me to understand such an oversight at any school!

Just as a teenager doesn't learn to drive "by osmosis" (God forbid!) likewise students don't just "learn to type" by sitting at a computer!

We aren't educating mindless robots who are sitting at an assembly line. We are educating professionals who will not have a secretary and need to be able to communicate efficiently via electronic media. They need to be creative and self motivated.

To sap creativity, have a person struggling to find the keys. They won't be inclined to write and rewrite!


Typing shouldn't be relegated to the vocational track. College preparatory students need this vital skill also! At our school, we do not require typed papers UNTIL a student has learned to type. To do so is harmful! Either someone else will write the paper or the child will hunt and peck into bad habits.

One of the reasons I was first in my class at Georgia Tech was I could type more, faster. I could keep up with the thousand lines of code and prolific paper writing. My mother was a typing teacher and taught me after fifth grade to type. I type 128 words a minute. I know what it means to type quickly. (Of course no education and fast typing is a waste too -- I said ONE of the factors!)

In conclusion: the Peer Success Equation

So in conclusion, I think that group goal setting is a phenomenal success in my classroom. Of course, setting something like gross words per minute is very easily measurable and other things aren't so measurable. I'm going to think through my other classes and see how I can give group goals and group rewards in such a way.

I also think that the more you use student blogs
, the more you foster such a "peer success" equation in the classroom.
I like that students of all grades can see each other's work.
It is also vital that I am connected with other teachers and excited. This community of edubloggers does a lot to keep me motivated and on track when I have the days that are a little tough!

Interesting that our book in keyboarding is about 10 years old. We just used new tools and techniques.
There are no excuses when it comes to teaching. There is always a way to improve. There are so many free tools at your fingertips. They will revolutionize and change your classroom in ways you cannot imagine. They will make you a better teacher. They will help your students learn more.

The facts show me that these tools work.
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