While students today mostly use electronic devices such as tablets and computers to record information in the classroom or to complete assignments, students in the late 19th and early 20th century classroom were using other writing surfaces and utensils, although some of the technologies have remained the same. Penmanship was important, but since paper was expensive, slates created a way for students to practice their handwriting over and over again. Slates presented a durable alternative to paper, and durability is an issue that modern day students have to consider. Electronic devices can be easily broken or develop problems, whereas a slate was made of durable material and gave students the opportunity to practice their cursive or complete math problems, wipe the surface clean, and start over. When paper was more readily available, students were able to use penmanship practice booklets, paper that was lined and bound and gave students a space to practice handwriting motions, letters, words, and phrases.
Sometimes handwriting could be combined with other subjects, such as history, where students wrote historical facts over and over again on their slates or in their booklets, helping to aid in memorization of these important pieces of information. Students were often taught particular handwriting styles, such as the Palmer Method, which also came with its own set of practice papers, tablets, and pads where students could practice this style of penmanship. The “blackboard technology” of slates still exists in many modern classrooms today where both student and instructor use the blackboard/whiteboard to communicate information to the class. Young children are still expected to have good penmanship. Even though cursive script is not as prevalent in contemporary society as it was in the 19th century schoolroom, students today will practice writing letters, words, and phrases to perfect their penmanship. This is an overview of the writing surfaces and related materials available in the Bowling Green State University Center for Archival Collections, located in the Jerome Library.