“Eyes up” Teaching students not to look at their fingers or keyboard while typing 

Jan 20, 2015 | | 22 comments

A natural struggle for many new typing students is that they want to stare at their fingers constantly while typing. I’m convinced that many teachers have grown weary repeating “eyes up” or worse “don’t look at your fingers” to students countless times. Generally speaking these promptings have little effect on outcomes and only serve to agitate the class and make teaching dreary. My rationale behind avoiding the phrase “don’t look at your fingers” is because as a teacher it is almost always better to focus on the positive behavior you expect rather than the negative behavior you are attempting to eliminate.

So what options do teachers have for helping to redirect students’ eyes? Before answering this question it should be noted that beginner typing students need to look at their fingers pressing the key as it is introduced to them the first time. Watching the finger reach for new keys helps make connections in the brain and will aid in developing the muscle memory we are trying to achieve. However, after the new keys are introduced students need to be quickly weaned off of staring at their fingers so they can focus on the text being written instead.

Over the years through trial and error and the keeping of student data to track effectiveness I have experimented with a few different ways to assist students in keeping their eyes up and my experiences are listed below:

The placebo: use a traditional keyboard and prompt students to look up when I see them staring at their fingers. This method really isn’t horrible if you are very high energy and able to roam the classroom constantly, but I’ve found there are better alternatives.

What I inherited: when I began teaching the students had folders taped to the back of the keyboard and they would put their hands under them and type this way.  This is a low budget method to ensure that students don’t watch their fingers, but it has a few drawbacks, the biggest for me is that it makes my fingers feel miserable and drives me insane having the envelope dangling over my hands.

Student typing with folder over hands.

Student typing with folder over hands.

Back in the day: my middle school typing teacher (Mr. Robinson New Haven Middle School, one of my favorite teachers) was also the shop teacher and he made wooden block covers to place over the keyboards so that you wouldn’t be able to watch the keyboard. I looked online for similar covers and a few exist in plastic, but they cost way too much for my out-of-pocket expenses so I bought a couple sheets of plywood, some 2”x6” studs, a box of screws and then made 30 for my classroom, which only set me back about $60.00.

Keeps students from looking at fingers.

Keeps students from looking at fingers.

Painted by Hallie Koenig

Painted by Hallie Koenig

Initially, I thought that these boards would be the panacea to fix everything wrong with my students learning to type correctly, but instead I found that several bad habits were occurring instead. For example, overnight as these covers were introduced nearly every one of my students developed a severer slouching problem and lowered their chairs as far as they could go so that they could peak under the covers and see the keys. Another issue was that students were constantly pushing the boards back and keyboards forward so that they could peek more easily and I needed to constantly police the room and adjusting the covers became old in a hurry. If adjusting postures and covers was the only problem with using these keyboard covers that I was so proud of I would have continued to use them, however I found a much more serious problem developing in more students than I would care to admit, they were using the wrong fingers to type with and I couldn’t see or correct this because their fingers were hidden from my sight under the boards.

New and improved (and very cheap): after seeing so many students using the wrong fingers I scraped using the covers and came up with a better idea over summer break. I have seen rubber keyboard covers that fit the keys like a glove and block out the letters, but these covers were once again too expensive for a group of 30, and price aside I’ve used them in other classes (back when I was a substitute teacher), and I absolutely hated them. Much like an envelope driving me crazy on the top of my fingers, the rubber cover again made me uncomfortable when typing and slowed my speed down significantly.

The idea of hiding the letters but still allowing me to observe students typing was what I needed to do, so I decided that the only option I had was to spray paint the keyboards… I asked our IT guy if he had any old keyboards and he had a stack of about 60 just laying around that I was able to use. So I cut out a template in the shape of the alphabetic keys, bought a can of PLASTIC type spray paint (do not use spray paint that isn’t made for plastics it will not work), and painted all the keyboards on my garage floor. My only caution is to be sure that you put a light coat of paint on, or multiple coats; otherwise the paint will run and cause the keys to stick together. Also, make sure the keyboards are nice and clean to avoid having permanent gunk painted into the keys. I didn’t run into any issues with painting the keyboards, but I don’t take any responsibility if you try this and something awful happens (please try painting just one keyboard first to make sure you don’t have any issues).

All letters are spray painted black so letters cannot be seen.

All letters are spray painted black so letters cannot be seen.

After having over a hundred students use my painted keyboards so far this year I have found them to be remarkably effective. The vast majority of my students don’t look at their fingers now and are also using the correct fingers. The first few days will be rough as students adjust and have difficulties logging into the computers, but after overcoming that initial hurdle you will be okay. There are some special needs students who I allow to use regular keyboards, but I also have many special education students who are now typing great even with the painted keys. I would encourage you to watch your class carefully and make a case-by-case decision based on the needs that you determine in your class.

Conclusion: after experimenting with a few different methods I would paint my keyboards again in a heartbeat, and if I were unable to do this I would avoid other types of covers and use a traditional keyboard instead. I would also recommend keeping non-painted backup keyboards available in your room. Earlier in the year I was conduction faculty training in my class and was horrified to see how many of my colleagues were unable to type without looking at the keys…

Type on!
Paul Schorey

Posted in: Teaching Typing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

22 Responses

  1. I’ve been looking for inexpensive skins that fit like a glove over the keys, but so far they don’t seem to exist. My lab is used for all k-4 grades for computer class so I need to be able to cover the keys for my 3rd and 4th graders when necessary but also remove them for the younger classes.They would have to constantly go on and off all day long.

    If I were teaching at the middle school level I would definitely do this.

    1. The Touch – Key Guides from The Keyboard Teacher Company make these awesome shields that fold up compact and covwr the hands as well as the keyboard. The $8 price tag can’t be beat and are guaranteed. My classroom has used them for years. I used the speesskins as well but they felt gummy and unnatural to the hands and stretch and mishapen over time. I think you you can get the shields from thia site http://Www.keyboardteacher.net (or. Com) i can’t remember.

  2. This is exactly the article I was hoping to find, but didn’t really expect to! I am going to ask the high school science teacher in my building if her class wants to take on the project – and invent a compound to make the covers. Shared expenses from both departments for material costs, and a cross-curricular real-world application project for both classes? My division will be thrilled – if it works, that is…

  3. We use nail polish to dot out our letters instead of spray painting the keys. It only cost a dollar to get a tube of polish and it will cover 30+ keyboards. Hope this helps

    1. Great idea! Does the nail polish stay on the keys for a long time before needed to be touched up? I’m finding the plastic spray paint is still doing good for me so far but the next round of keyboards I do I’m leaning towards using nail polish instead.

    2. I, too, use black nail polish. I start out by blacking out the vowels. As time passes, I begin to [slowly] black out other letters.

  4. Great idea!! I have to say I used the lids to the boxes that our paper comes in and the the bottoms( I had to cut them down a bit) to make my own covers for the keyboards. You are right when you say it just created new problems!! So i will try and find the money for extra keyboards!! thanks for the tip!!

  5. I have used these two methods 1) skins and 2) black nail polish (vowels only). The nail polish works best. If the manila folders are annoying, what are your thoughts on fabric draped over their hands? I’m thinking I would use the fabric once a week on a timed test (instead of skins).

    Do you think the fabric would be equally annoying as manila folders?

    1. I think the fabric idea would probably work okay, I would personally like that better than the folders. Maybe you could use the fabric on one keyboard and have a few students try it and see how they like it before making several keyboards like that? I bet your students are doing great and will be successful with whatever method you decide to go with in the end. Keep up the great work and thanks for commenting.

    2. We use the fabrics at our school and they are not that annoying. You can either drape them over the hands or tuck them under the keyboard.

  6. The best thing I have ever seen are the Touch-Key Guides created by the Keyboard Teacher. They fold away and are not boxy. I have used them for years are above and beyond far better than the skins. An inexpensive investment of about $200 for a classroom set of 25. I have been using them for about 7 years now with no problems

  7. I am a new teacher and one of my roles is K-5 Technology. I chose to focus on typing the first semester. I use http://www.learning.com. which is a great program, but my students are still pecking at the board. I cannot black out my keys because my k-2 need to be able to see the keys. I am researching the “skins” to take on and off. On another note, if there are any elementary typing teachers that would be willing to share thoughts/ideas/things you use in your classroom to help the students I would be so grateful.

    1. Hi, Gina. I’m in the same boat. I am using learning.com but also typing.com because it allows more practice and lessons for keyboarding. I focus on typing the first 10-15 minutes or last 10-5 minutes of class since I am responsible for teaching so many skills. I am thinking about getting clear keyboard covers for our macs and using the fingernail polish method mentioned above for my fourth and fifth graders. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Brand-New-1pcs-Dustproof-Waterproof-Ultra-Thin-Clear-Soft-TPU-US-Keyboard-Cover-Skin-Protector-for/32670631931.html?spm=2114.40010208.4.137.X7Ojs2

      Some ideas I use… We use a home row key cheer for my second graders. I start teaching real typing in second grade and use web sites such as keyboard climber 1 and 2 and keyboard zoo, etc. for Kindergarten and 1. Hope that some of this helps.
      Debbie

  8. I love reading all of your comments. I teach technology at an intermediate level school. Grades 3-5. I have used many different keyboarding programs over the years. I always start out by modeling on the SmartBoard with a home row colored keyboard. Then I start them out with DanceMat typing ….Typing Stages http://kidstyping.weebly.com/
    It is very colorful and interesting for the students. I allow them to play a keyboarding game after their lesson stage, that correlates with that lesson (or letters). I use a program ONLY2CLICKS with a tab for Keyboarding. I put all of our Keyboarding games there along with our lessons. All in one place, great for younger students. I will share my link to my keyboarding tab. It is on our school website. I teach approximately 6 weeks (sometimes more, if needed) of keyboarding. Then we apply it, by working on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, because the best way to learn is to actually do it.
    Another way to cover the keyboards is by using boxers! (CLEAN ones, of course). The students put their hands through the leg holes, which acts as a cover of the keyboards. Less messy, very good if you have a lab that is used by other grades. Hope this was helpful for any of you starting out.
    Check out Typing Jets HomeRow (http://www.arcademics.com/games/typing-jets/typing-jets.html) The students can race against each other in groups, my students LOVE THIS and it is great practice!
    This is my link to Keyboarding:
    http://www.only2clicks.com/pages/RETcomputerlab/625535

  9. I have the same dilemma as a computer aide trying to teach keyboarding. I ordered some slim line Mac keyboard covers that fit perfectly, hoping to take a paint marker and cover the letters and numbers. It doesn’t work. I can’t cover them with Sharpies or paint markers. I’ve tried wiping them with acetone, graffiti remover and alcohol. None of them have worked. I’m about to resort to electrical tape, but I’m sure students will pull the tape off. I’m pretty sure spray paint won’t work on these silicone covers. Any other suggestions?

    1. If you were to go that route and use a clear cover that needs painted, I would suggest painting the inside of the covers rather than the tops (this would help prevent the oil in students’ fingers from eventually rubbing the paint off). Also, if you are using a spray paint it needs to be the type that works on plastics. Good luck!

  10. I had to use a laptop to teach a 6th grader. Used a Sharpie to paint the letters! Then wrapped the keyboard with a food wrap to prevent peering eyes! The food wrap can be blown with a hair dryer to make it less obtrusive, but was helpful even otherwise.

  11. When I learned to type, about 30 years ago, my teacher had us cut and paste masking tape on each key. If the tape showed through, we had to put a smaller square of paper covering the letter, then put the tape on top of it. I don’t really remember if we tried to peek or not (I went to an all-girls, catholic school so we pretty much did as we were told,) but it worked quite well. And it was cheap, too! I suppose painter’s tape would work too. Better yet, I found these keyboard stickers on Amazon that seem like the perfect alternative to cutting little squares of masking tape: http://amzn.to/2ocvaYd And they are quite inexpensive as well! Hope this helps 🙂

    Thank you for your outstanding website. I shall include it in a round up of “best free learning-to-type websites” in my blog.

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