Friday, March 8, 2013

Unfettered Eager Minds

Even with all the excitement over the 4th Phoenix Type-In, the CTP is still chugging along nicely. It's been a while since I have posted with updated information about the benefit of a typewriter in a classroom setting.

I've done stuff with spelling, and student opinions, but I thought it might be a hoot to look at output as an outcome. I have never subscribed to the "more is better" camp of thought. There is, however, a chance that typewritten output can be an evaluative component of student "on-typewriter" performance vis-a-vis handwritten activities.

I decided to take four random journal prompts from my class that has the highest typewriter user to student ratio; 2:3 for Period 2. I then set about counting the average number of words written by both hand and typewriter. The results were interesting:

Typewriters (students who typewrite their journals) were producing more words per journal than handwriters. Typing for composition is definitely faster than handwriting, but is it that much faster? Taking into account that my students are not touch typists and have a non-standard typing styles--owing to the prevalence to two-thumb typing--I find that the result is skewed in favor of something other than speed.

Speed, however, is a powerful metric. Typewriting allows ideas to be placed on paper at a rate commensurate with a thought process. Handwriting can slow things down although that might be a honorable intention in and of itself. Speed (as if speed and quanity equaled quality) was a major justification for kids using typewriters made by Royal, and other manufacturers, during period advertising.
Most of the research that supported the claims by Royal in this kind of advertising were conducted by two researchers; Ben Wood of Columbia and Frank Freeman of the University of Chicago. In 1929, funded by the typewriter industry, Wood and Freeman deployed thousands of typewriters in classrooms across the nation. 15,000 students and over 400 teachers were involved in the study. It was widespread and far-reaching and, ultimately, the results were positive. Wood and Freeman concluded that gains in all areas were measurable by the Standford Achievement Test and that spelling was a significant component of that.

"There is fairly consistent evidence that the typewriter's influence of spelling is more favorable than on any other subject tested in the Stanford Achievement Test" (Wood and Freeman, 1932).
The Classroom Typewriter Project data proved Wood and Feeman correct.

The only other reason for the data in the chart above might be a fun little indicator that made its debut appearance in the first typewriter survey I gave my students. The statment was; "Using a typewriter imparts more meaning to my writing." If a writer thinks that the act of typewriting is special, there would be an interest in fulfilling that preconceived notion and writing more. And in the case of a classroom filled with teenagers a lack of material is the greatest detriment to quality revision.


  1. Very interesting.

    Do some really use their thumbs on the typewriter keyboard?

  2. You've got some interesting information. I never heard of two thumbs typing.

    I noticed in my own journals that if I type I usually have a page a day or more. When I write I seldom have a full page, and I know if I do there is not as much content since my writing (even if I print) is much larger than the typewriter font.

  3. Very interesting, indeed.

    I write 85 WPM (on a computer) with my long fingers, using my left index for space.