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The Glorified Typewriter




As a writer, this is what makes me crazy:  Watching kids write out their stories on paper first and then type them into the computer.  When I see teachers in elementary or middle school insist that students have a rough draft in pencil before they sit down at the computer, I want to scream.

Some of you may be old enough to remember when college libraries had card catalogues, stacks, and books on reserve.  Writing a research paper, let alone a thesis or a dissertation, was a major undertaking.  You had to look up the topic in the card catalogue, fill out a form, and take it to the librarian.  If the book was in (and that was a big IF), it may or may not have what you needed.  Books on reserve could only be used in the library and only for a limited time.  Of course, because everyone needed those books and not everyone wanted to read them in the library, some students just ripped out the pages they needed.

Then there was typing the paper.  Some professors would accept onionskin, a thin, membrane-like paper which you could actually erase with a simple pencil eraser.  Most professors, however, insisted on regular typewriter paper.  Minor typos could be fixed with white out, but major revisions required you to type the whole thing over.  So once the paper was typed, you tried not to notice any problems because revision was so onerous.

So some of today’s teachers, instead of showing kids how easy – wonderfully, amazingly, beautifully easy – it is to compose on a computer choose to act as if it’s really just a glorified typewriter.  These teachers believe that writing and revising are absolutely two separate functions, not something you would ever do simultaneously as real writers do.  Cutting and pasting, saving drafts, researching as you write, checking a thesaurus, locating a source, moving whole paragraphs, deleting phrases, adding others … all of this should be taught as soon as students are able to put words together in a sentence.

Making kids today compose with a #2 pencil would be like asking Tolstoy to write War and Peace with a twig in snow.  Kids will be better writers --and thinkers-- if show them right from the start all the tools they have right in front of them.


Thank you for this post. I'm grateful someone is outspoken about this antiquated practice. It already is such a struggle to motivate many students to write. We should be removing obstacles not creating them. If a child needs assistance with penmanship, provide him or her with that assistance, but not at the expense of their writing development.

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