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.
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.
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).
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…