The Teaching-Engine

Origin, History and Description of the Teaching-Engine

The creation of the Teaching-Engine computer program was inspired by the learning difficulties of Andrew Payne, son of Chris Payne, the Teaching-Engine creator.  Andrew, the third of three children, was an entirely normal, happy and healthy child.  The earliest signs of potential academic difficulties were that he had no interest in puzzles and did not show interest or aptitude in pre-school academic play activities.  In the first and second grades, it was becoming clear that the academic work was not going well, and the second grade teacher recommended that he repeat the grade.

Andrew Payne with his sisters Jackie and Katie


Chris began to work with Andrew to try and see why he was having difficulties while his two sisters Jackie and Katie had no problems at school.  In fact Jackie, the oldest, started Grade-1 at age 5, and always ranked near the top of her class.

Andrew was given many tests by pediatricians, psychologists, optometrists, ophthalmologists, and even a neurological pediatrician and all tests came up normal.  The school recommended occupational therapy and Andrew went once a week to a professional who drilled him with various exercises in shape and color recognition.  This was so difficult and frustrating for Andrew, that after a year the program was discontinued.  Also a program of eye exercises was begun through a local optometrist which also ran for a year and then was discontinued because of a lack of clear progress.  With all this professional testing and guidance, why could no one help Andrew?

Chris's background was in the physical sciences, mainly electronics, and he was naturally intrigued with cause and effect relationships.  He began to look into what caused Andrew to have such difficulties with schoolwork. 

Chris began working with Andrew every day, reading to him, reading with him, helping him with his spelling studies and it was indeed a difficult and frustrating time.  The teaching just didn't stick.  A visual memory test was tried where various objects, such as a pencil, a spoon and other common things were put on a table and covered with a cloth.  Andrew was asked to tell what were the object and the order of them under the cloth.  He had great difficulties remembering what was there, while his sisters could recite exactly what was there and give the correct order.

Reading for Andrew was very difficult and fatiguing.  After 15 minutes of working with a child's reader, his eyes would water, he complained of headaches and his reading slowed down to nearly a standstill.  He described waves of colors flowing over the reading page.  He would take breaks away from his studies where he would go out in the back yard and swing on a large, tall swing which would give his eyes rest from near vision fatigue and allow him to use his distant vision in a normal 3D world.  Then when he returned to practicing reading, he could read better and faster, but only for another 15 minutes.

Various experiments were tried such as copying the page from a reader and doubling the font size.  Although Andrew had been tested and found to have perfectly normal visual acuity, he could read considerably better and faster with the larger font.   Cards were placed above and below the line of text he was reading so that only one line was visible, and it was discovered that he read more accurately.  Reading was practiced with Chris pointing to the word to be read and then Andrew following his reading by pointing and both techniques caused an improvement in reading. 

Andrew always preferred to have the curtains closed to his room and the incandescent light be
used when he

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