Friday, March 4, 2011

Do Typewriters Produce Better Writing Than Computers?

About a year ago, I found a used 1960s portable typewriter for sale. I thought it would be an interesting novelty to share with my students, so I purchased it and brought it in to my classroom. I figured it may peak some interest, but my students’ responses were truly memorable. Several simply had no idea what a typewriter even was; nearly all admitted to never having used one. This was evident when I began to let them experiment on the machine. There were baffled by the missing ability to delete and correct mistakes. One student even apologized after the carriage return bell sounded. He thought he had broken the typewriter!

I was a bit intrigued by the dinosaur as well; I am 29 years old, so other than pounding on my mother’s electric typewriter as a kid, I had no experience with this medium. As a novelty, I decided to write a few blog posts on the typewriter (I later learned this was a niche form of blogging called typecasting). I found that my writing and thought process changed considerably – I was more cautious about syntax and word choice because I was unable to go back and edit, and the length of time it took to write each passage increased simply because my finger dexterity forced me to take my time and firmly strike each key. In the end, my efforts produced a well-thought piece of writing.

I began to wonder how typewriters would affect my students’ writing. After all, a common complaint by teachers is that students rush through writing assignments and are usually hasty when it comes to planning quality responses. I wondered if my district could learn something about teaching the writing process from these archaic machines.

For the past year, I have been slowly accumulating typewriters from community members and friends so that I can use them with my students. I have almost 20 manual typewriters dating from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

This Spring I am planning a writing project to determine the affects of manual typewriters on demand writing tasks. Judging by my own experiences, I predict that the quality and depth of the responses will be better for students who type using a manual typewriter rather than a laptop.

By no means am I suggesting schools abandon computers for typewriters; rather I feel that a lot can be learned by examining how students write using these devices. As more schools move toward a 1:1 environment, this information will become invaluable.

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3 Responses:

Wm Chamberlain said...

Very interesting post. I am intrigued by the outcome you find. How will you asses the quality of the writing?

Ryan Adney said...

Oh my goodness, we need to form an alliance. I've been doing something similar in my classroom all this year. We should talk.

keylogger said...

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