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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Practically Speaking
Carl Sannito

I’ve previously written about the dichotomy of using computers for education: Should educators focus on teaching educational software as a means to an end or use the computer as a tool to enhance education? I believe we need to do both in order to get the most out of technology and give the most to our students.

When it comes to practical software, I don’t think anything can beat word processing. Regardless of whether you have Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, OpenOffice, WordPad, or any of a variety of flavors available today, word processing is an outstanding skill to teach students of all ages.

Why is word processing so important for students to learn? Because it’s part of the writing process. Publishing is ultimately the goal for the bulk of writing that students create. These days, not only is word processing the goal, it’s part of the process. Since part of teaching word processing is also teaching the keyboard and (ultimately) how to type correctly. If you can teach younger students how to navigate the keyboard, by the time they are in the upper grades, some of them will be able to actually write at a keyboard, typing almost as fast as the ideas can fly out of their imaginations. Although this is a long term goal, what a spectacular thing it is to see students maximize technology and write on the fly!

This doesn’t mean ignore the writing process. Absolutely not! We still need to teach the students how to revise, edit, and spell check. (Peer review is a powerful way to drive this point home.) But the most basic word-processors today come with built in spell-checkers, grammar checkers, and cut and paste features. High end software includes even more sophisticated revision tools.

Even if the students never learn how to stare at that white screen and let the words flow from their finger tips, I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t light up with joy when they take their notebook paper filled with ideas and begin to see the words perfectly spaced on their computer screen. And then, after it’s all typed in, watch what happens when you print out their work!

So let’s get down to business:

How early can you start teaching students to how to word process?
I’ve done very simple words with first graders who have no problem finding keys on the keyboard. It really depends on the child and the situation, but sooner is better than later.

What is worth teaching? Keyboarding? Cutting and Pasting? Every shortcut in the program?
Before you begin working with your students, you have to decide what’s important. For little ones (grades 1-3), you may want to show them how to make uppercase and lowercase letters, punctuation marks, how to create a new line, how to save and open a file, and how to make the fonts bigger. That may be enough for them. Older students can handle spell-checking, printing, bold, italics, centering, etc. You need to teach them enough so that they are eventually comfortable sitting alone at the computer and typing in their documents, saving and printing them. Save the fancy formatting stuff for after they get the basics down. The great thing about word-processing is that it can all be taught in the context of writing. It’s a natural extension of publishing.

Keyboarding skills are important and can be used as a language arts reinforcement. However, if you don’t have the time to teach typing, just review where your basic keys are, how to use the shift and caps lock keys, and where the punctuation keys are. Although teaching typing as a formal subject will help with the students’ speed, there isn’t always time to teach it.

What software should students use to word-process with?
Students should use whatever word-processing software you have available. If you are lucky enough to have Microsoft Word installed on your computers, that’s perfect. However, all Windows computers from Windows 98 to Windows XP have WordPad installed on them. You may find the scaled-down WordPad to be better for students because it isn’t overwhelming. I used WordPad with primary students and Word with intermediate children. There’s plenty of word-processing software available, some of it is free (check out OpenOffice)! Whatever you use, just be sure that you’re comfortable with it.

What teaching tools are available to teach typing and word-processing?
Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be. I try to integrate typing and word-processing with whatever the students are learning in class. Use spelling words or student names to teach letter keys. When teaching punctuation, have students type in their own writings.

If you are trying to teach keyboarding skills, my favorite programs are from Sunburst, especially Type to Learn and Type to Learn Jr. .

Word processing is a skill that will take students beyond the classroom. Papers in high school and college need to be typed. So does a college application, a job resume, and a doctoral thesis. Typing and word-processing are real world skills that prepare students for life.

If you have a comment about this article, you can e-mail Carl at carlsannito@yahoo.com.


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