Q: Our oldest child starts third grade soon. The school sent information on the Common Core learning standards and says parents should provide kids with keyboarding opportunities. We don't allow our children to use computers or digital devices. Why would third-graders need this?
A: There are good reasons. One, keyboarding is in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Here is a grade three standard for students: With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
Keyboarding is an essential word-processing skill and the sooner students master it, the more effective they'll be at using technology. Research shows that learning to use a keyboard and execute basic word processing commands in the primary grades prevent poor habits from forming. Studies also indicate that students who use word processing become more motivated and better writers because they can revise, edit and review their work more efficiently.
Two, when it comes time for testing, students in most states with CCSS will take online assessments. Bill Laraway teaches at Silver Oak Elementary in San Jose, California. He helped his district transition from paper and pencil to online testing.
"By third grade, students are expected to feel comfortable with technology, especially the keyboard," says Laraway. "New online Common Core and midyear benchmark performance testing requires students to input answers in a variety of modes: trackpad/input device, keyboard and the manipulation of online tools (especially in math). There are not only multiple-choice responses, but questions that require short-answer responses and essays typed directly into text boxes. Students with keyboarding skills can focus their time and energy during the assessment crafting their written responses."
Starting keyboarding at an early age makes sense, says Laraway.
"I know parents who have an extreme 'no computers/technology' position, but it puts their students at a serious disadvantage," he explains. "I've seen parents of fourth- and fifth-graders type their children's reports because they see their kids struggling with the keys. Unfortunately, those children miss keyboarding practice that's vital for success during the school day.
"Kids need these skills, not just to be better test takers, but to become wise digital citizens. As with everything else in life, taking a moderate approach to technology is sensible."
Laraway suggests that third-graders should learn the keyboard layout and understand the function of the space bar, delete and arrow keys; know how to click and tap; grasp how to cut, paste and highlight; understand how to scroll; know how to select and unselect an object, text or area; and be able to drag, slide and drop selected material and use drop-down menus.
There are many online games that teach keyboarding, says Laraway.
"What motivates one child may bore another," he says. "Let trial-and-error lead you to games that are fun and effective practice. Go beyond the drill and practice apps. Give the child a purpose for using those skills, like writing an email to Grandma."
Most states teaching CCSS use tests from either the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (smarterbalanced.org) or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC, parcconline.org). You can find online practice tests at both websites.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)