How to Grade Typing?

Sep 15, 2015 | | Say something

When I was in college I took my only coding class (Microsoft Visual Basic) as an elective. At the time I was a 19 year old pursuing a music degree and simply going through the motions of earning a college degree and taking any classes that I thought were interesting at the time. I also remember that my Dad asked if he could borrow my textbook and software for the Visual Basic class and he quickly learned how to write small programs that he eventually used for himself and even sold some to others. Although I earned an A or a B in the class, paid for the course, and earned the college credits, I really learned extremely little from the course while my Dad who has never taken a college class or received credit for one learned exponentially more than I did during the same time.

My reason for sharing this story is to illustrate a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when it comes to learning and earning grades. I was motivated primarily by extrinsic forces, meaning although I was interested in the topic of coding I really was only out to earn a degree, therefore learning was a byproduct of that pursuit rather than the focus. On the other hand, my Dad had real-life programs that he wanted to create for specific purposes, so instead of pursuing the class for a grade or credits he dove into the content with the intentions of mastering it so that he could make useful applications. When I reflect on the learning accomplishments in my life which I am proudest of I find that in nearly every case I was motivated almost entirely by internal factors.

As an educator I realize that any significant learning that may take place in my classroom will be dictated by students’ personal educational desires. My goal is to help students realize why it is important for them to learn how to type, and how learning to type quickly can make their lives measurably better. I feel strongly that teachers who attempt to motivate primarily through carrots and sticks such as good or bad grades based on typing speeds can significantly stifle student progress at every end of the typing speed spectrum. From what I understand about motivational theory, earning an “A” will only motivate a few kids in any given classroom, because grade motivation ignores the intrinsic factors that compel the vast majority of kids. The problem many teachers have is that they may have always been the kids who earned the high grades, loved school, and sometimes forget that most people tick to a different clock.

Anyone who has taught many kids realizes that students come to class with great differences in prior learning. In my Computer Applications courses I have had students from private schools who have had daily typing and computer classes for two entire years mixed in the same room with students who have rarely touched a computer and can’t even figure out how to turn it on without my explanation. Other students have low literacy skills, or other learning impediments, and regardless of how hard they work in my class these students will never be able to type as fast as other students without these same disadvantages. Given the tremendous skill differences at the onset of my classes I cannot fathom a situation where grading the same students based on how fast they can type as being remotely fair. What will the majority of my low speed typists do after they take the first test and see that they are significantly slower than I expected? I believe the threat of a bad grade is more likely to discourage these students rather than encourage them to perform better. What will happen to the kids I have that already type faster than the speed needed for an “A”? There is nothing inherent about an “A” that would motivate these students to continue to improve, so if I want the “A” students to type faster do I now raise the typing speed requirements again in an effort to achieve better results?

Another aspect about grading by typing speed that bothers me is that someone with prior typing experience can fly through assignments while a new typist may take several more hours to complete the same work. If anyone in this situation deserves a higher grade I would think the person who needed to work 10 times as long on the assignment should receive the better grade.

For the past three years I have given students a weekly typing test (I used to use the old www.typingweb.com test, but this year I began using my own test instead). I pour over the test data week after week, class after class, and year after year. Every week I throw the data into an Excel run chart that displays every single student that I have taught from their first week through their last (twelfth). After putting the data into a run chart I calculate the weekly class averages and compare it to previous classes. Last year I also began to have students chart their own personal progress after every test, and I wish I began having the kids graph their data much earlier (You can download my sample chart here and use it with your students also if you would like) My first year giving the weekly typing test I was scared that if I didn’t assign a grade to it my students would not take the test serious. However, to my initial surprise, I found that one of the best things I did was not to give grades on the speed tests. Nearly all of my students tried their hardest and almost always showed continual improvement week after week without me needing to threaten them with grading their results. The chart below shows the averages each week for the past three years of teaching that I have recorded. The graphs reflect approximately 50-60 kids each week and include handicap and special education students in my classes also.

Typing Test Class Averages For Last Three Years

Typing Test Class Averages For Last Three Years

As can be seen in the chart there are significant differences in where each of the classes began, however they tend to cluster near the same position at the end of the trimester. Some groups started considerably higher or lower than the others and I attribute this primarily to the differences in keyboards that I used (covers to hide keys, no covers all keys visible, and lastly all keys painted black so the letters don’t show, this article explains my methodology better). A few groups also tended to plateau during the last few weeks which I attribute to the fact that we typically would spend a maximum of 7-9 weeks typing and do other Computer Applications assignments during the remainder of the trimester. The significance of the data is that it shows a typical decrease in initial typing speed as students transition from typing incorrectly to typing with the correct fingers and then almost without exception the classes all improve significantly each week while we are working on typing material during the class time (all without being graded based on speed).

In the second chart below I have removed student names and show the data for tests 1 and 12 from my last trimester. The graph is a simple illustration showing how fast kids were at the start of the class and how fast kids typed by the end of the course. The charts are sorted by name, fastest first test, fastest last test, and finally by the percentage of speed increase each student exhibited. I use net WPM for the scores each week, and in reality all of the 1’s were actually 0’s, but I rounded up otherwise the percentage increase would have been infinite.

1st and 12th typing test results showing percentage increase

1st and 12th typing test results showing percentage increase

As may or may not have been expected, my students who started out unable to even score one NWPM on the first test improved tremendously (twenty-three out of forty-six kids improved by 900% or more). In fact nearly every student who improved the most would have traditionally received a horrible grade in a typing class with traditional WPM or accuracy grading. Keep in mind that this data includes every student so there may be some random outliers such as an occasional very low special education student, etc.

The data indicates that students will significantly improve their typing speed without a teacher needing to link student typing test speed to grades. The only grade students earn for taking a weekly typing test in my classes is the completion grade at the end of the trimester when they turn in their completed speed chart. Nearly every single kid wants to learn, they want to improve, and they want to be successful in school, but every kid learns at different paces. I hope the data can encourage you to take a risk and drop the notion of grading based on typing speed and instead help foster students’ intrinsic motivation.

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