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Typewriters in the classroom

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From The Typewriter: Time-tested Tool for Teaching Reading and Writing, by Ann Cochran and George E. Mason (1978):

“The children who had typing instruction actually spent only an hour or two a week at the typewriter, yet at the end of the first year they outperformed the nontyping pupils in reading.”

As a school teacher, I often wonder what extent technology advances learning. Each day, more than 100 of my students log into their Chromebooks, accessing curriculum and submitting assignments. Granted, Chromebooks are not typewriters, but they are the modern equivalent. What is it about typing — mechanically or digitally — that enhances learning?

As an educator, I might offer that, as typewriters/computers are tools of creation, these devices enable students to create and through creation to learn. But if these devices distract, learning can’t occur. Distraction-free typewriters might have the advantage, might still have a place in the classroom.

Below is an article on typewriters and the classroom from the 1930s —

From the Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania), Jan. 19, 1934.

From the Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania), Jan. 19, 1934.

© 2016, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Richard P September 27, 2016, 11:48 am

    In my book I document various successful cases of typewriter use in classrooms today. In general, kids are fascinated by the devices and will pay close attention to their spelling. Of course I believe that handwriting, including cursive, should also be taught.

    • Mark Adams September 27, 2016, 4:59 pm

      So here’s a question: should we bring manual typewriters back into the classroom? — not just as a novelty activity, but as an integral part of the curriculum. I’m noticing that even with automatic spellcheck, most students just type wahtever (!) and never bother to correct their spelling. Also, I’ve noticed that students’ writing has become more fragmented, more phrasal. If manual (or even electric) typewriters were advantageous in the past, why have they become obsolete?

      • Rhiannon November 3, 2016, 4:53 pm

        I am absolutely on board with putting manual typewriters back in schools, or perhaps low price electrics (I would buy a Swintec myself if I had the space). If people are adamant about computers in school (yeah, right, like every school can afford one desktop or laptop per kid), then I would demand a compromise: plain text editing only, NO spellchecking. Make them learn to write right before they get the tools. Kids still have to learn how to do math before they get to use calculators, so why should writing skills be any different?

        If I had my way, I would make portable manual typewriters with Bennett-style cogs and a better keyboard, and a mix of aluminium and iron to keep the weight down (under two pounds). Make kids learn to type on and carry them to and from school. I carried a saxophone to and from school daily for band class, and that weighed more than most portable typewriters of the 1960s-1980s.

        I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in Taiwan. A few years ago while on vacation in the Philippines, I bought a refurbished manual typewriter because I hadn’t had one in a decade. I brought it to school to write handouts or quizzes, among other things. I also let the kids try it out from time to time. You would have been tickled by the reactions of kids (who grew up on touch screens and have cell phones) to a machine with no electricity that produces instant results. Many asked me if they could take it home.

  • Will Davis September 28, 2016, 3:07 pm

    This is an interesting topic; thanks for sharing it! By the way, I think that might be a Barr portable pictured in the newspaper article.

    • Mark Adams September 28, 2016, 4:09 pm

      Yes, I was wondering about that. At first, I was thinking Royal, but those machines do look a bit like Barrs.

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