ADVERTISEMENT

The 7-year-olds in Natalie May’s second-grade class have to stretch their fingers across the keyboards to reach “ASDF” and “JKL;” as they listen to the animated characters on their computer screens talk about “home keys.”

“After 15 minutes, some of them will say their fingers are hurting, so we take a break,” said May, a Phoenix educator who began teaching typing to second-graders this school year.

Of the major shifts taking place in American classrooms as a result of the new national Common Core academic standards, one little-noticed but sweeping change is the fact that children as early as kindergarten are learning to use a keyboard.

The Common Core standards make frequent references to technology skills, stating that students in every grade should be able use the Internet for research and use digital tools in their school work to incorporate video, sound and images with writing.

But the standardized tests linked to the Common Core make those expectations crystal clear because the exams – which will be given in 2014-2015 – require students to be able to manipulate a mouse; click, drag and type answers on a keyboard; and, starting in third grade, write online. Fourteen states have agreed to field-test the exams next spring to help those creating the tests iron out the wrinkles and make improvements.

Third-graders will be asked to write three short pieces, according to Laura Slover, who heads one of two consortia that are designing the tests.

“Writing is a critical skill, and young students should have the opportunity to write frequently about meaningful topics,” Slover said. And when the writing tests are administered online, that means the students will be using a keyboard.

Those requirements are sending tremors through the nation’s elementary schools.

“All these elementary teachers are dying, worrying how they’re going to get their kids to meet these new requirements,” said Jaqui Murray, a California teacher who writes the popular Ask A Tech Teacher blog.

Most elementary-age children are digital natives, comfortable with smartphones and tablets. But they often operate those hand-held devices with a swipe of a finger. They have a much more difficult time trying to compose text on a keyboard, according to their teachers.

“On the Common Core assessments, some of these writings are going to be document-based questions,” said Kathleeen Regan of New Jersey’s Glen Rock Public Schools. “The last thing you want is for the kids to be struggling with the mechanical skills. “

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, said the Common Core’s expectation that a 9-year-old will be able to write a page of text as part of the standardized test is off base.

“By third grade, if you have one well-formed paragraph, you’re lucky,” Berninger said. “Kids don’t write that extended text. Paragraph formation comes at about sixth grade, maybe fifth grade. The current Common Core is not developmentally appropriate.”