Texting's effect on writing/grammarWith the prevalence of texting among all ages, and the perceived negative effects on traditional grammar, how should students best overcome this detriment to...
With the prevalence of texting among all ages, and the perceived negative effects on traditional grammar, how should students best overcome this detriment to their writing skills? Many students understand the difference between formal and informal writing, but unfortunately, many do not especially in the middle schools. What do you see as solutions?
My first response to this question is that ten years ago none of us would have understood what the question means. The world changes so rapidly. There are debates already raging across the country about texting and driving. No doubt in my mind that when youngsters drive, read and text watch out!
Anyway, here comes a different problem with texting: the fear of ruining the students' writing skills. (As a long time teacher, although I did not think that I was cynical, some of their skills do no have far to fall.) Maybe that is why there is a need for this discussion. Having done some research about the issue, there are definitely two sides to the issue and probably some fence riders as well. Here is the breakdown:
Pro (It will impact writing skills): Concerned parents and teachers
Con: All "texters" and the phone makers and cellphone companies
Fence Riders (semi-neutral): The parents who do not have the energy or patience to argue with their children. (Sad dilemma!)
Some critics feel that the abbreviations and shortening of phrases will impact the students' spelling and their ability to express themselves in long thoughts. Does texting hurt writing skills? According to a recent report from Pew Internet and American Life Project, "Writing,Technology and Teens," texting is showing up in the school writing situations already.
"Out of 700 youth aged 12-17 who particpated in the phone survey, 60 per cent say they don't consider electronic communcation --e-mail; instant messaging; mobile texting--to be writing in the formal sense; 63 per cent say it has no impact on the [their] writing...and 64 per cent report inadvertently using some form of shorthand common to electronic text, including n s, incorrect grammar or punctuation."
It is understandable that teachers are concerned about the formal communication setting students believe that texting is a way of life. Our country has become interested in finding the quick way or the easiest way, not necessarily the best way to do things.
When something like texting interferes with writing skills, then more examination is needed. In talking to a teacher friend, she related that she had just read a student's paper, and in it, the student wrote:
"OMG, this is the best story." She also used a shortened form for "I love it" written with a heart.
This was a senior student on an essay test.
Punctuation skills may also lose some importance since very little is used in the texting setting. Even if texting does produce students with poor writing skills, what is to be done? The writing teacher, already struggling to get the students to write complete sentences, will have to work harder to overcome the abbreviations and informality of the texting scene. Texting is not going away until something else takes it place. Teachers will again have to fight the battle left on their doorsteps.
I begin every school year (7th grade Communication Arts) with a discussion of the difference between formal and informal writing, and explain that basic usage errors in skills that should be well-known to students by 7th grade, such as capitalization rules, will result in deductions from their grades on written work, even written work pertaining to literature we are reading, not just formal writing assignments and items handed in during discussion of the writing process. In other words, the usage conventions that they should know, I deduct for on all work handed in. It usually takes a couple of assignments, and a few frustrated conversations before this problem begins to take care of itself--for most of the kids, that is. This doesn't necessarily happen for the struggling students who may have accumulated deficits in knowledge over the years for whatever reason.
I often give the example of a close friend mine who was the national director of tax services for a major nationwide accounting firm for years. She had to proofread every single item written by one of her accountants that went out on company letterhead; he apparently didn't think his writing mattered too much because he was a "numbers guy". However, this particular deficit in his performance cost him a raise one year, and his job the next. Some of the kids seem to take that story to heart, and at least begin to understand why I fly around the room on my broomstick wielding a red pen.
Although many teachers I know have tried to remedy this problem with what is sometimes called "Daily Oral Language" or DOL sentences placed on the board for students to correct and discuss each day, Donalyn Miller claims in The Book Whisperer that there is relatively little research to support the effectiveness of daily sentence corrections. She believes--and my experience lines up with this for the most part--that more reading independently with books students choose themselves, coupled with mini-lessons addressing specific grammar and usage skills in the context of authentic assignments designed around reading is a better alternative. However, even if these skills are re-taught and reinforced, it's not going to do anyone any good if correct usage is not applied in formal writing, and the only way I really know to do that is to dock points early and consistently.
I think the only way that students can overcome this detriment to their writing skills is to make a concerted effort to engage in some longer forms of writing - beyond texting and Twittering in a short form manner. There is a place for texting and Twittering and even hastily dashed off emails. The challenge is to help students understand the importance of longer forms of formal and informal written communication. They need to be aware that this form of writing will help them perform better in their advanced academic studies (and help them get there) and in their careers.
In the home, and in the classroom, students should be encouraged to write out their thoughts in letter and report form. They should also be encouraged to write longer analytical pieces as applies to subjects that interest them. Does a student have a favorite music group or other interest that speaks to them? Maybe a teacher can encourage the student to write an essay, letter, report, a long form email, or something similar that highlights why they enjoy the band or activity, and what the band or activity represents to the student. This exercise is applicable across a broad variety of subjects and disciplines.
Really, there is no shortcut to learning to write longer, meaningful, intelligent, cohesive, and clear communication pieces. Parents and teachers can offer outlets for longer forms of written communication; however, students must take the initiative to carry these projects out. They will carry them out when they can understand better how these longer forms can benefit them now and in the future.
To battle the "Newspeak" of texting, teachers must be stalwar in their unacceptance of it on the academic level. Clarifying that there are differences in our manner of eating when we are alone and when we are at a restaurant, and other such examples may establish the concept that what is acceptable and appropriate in one condition is not in another. For instance, in our community with a School for the Deaf, there are many residents who use sign language. Students at the school must learn to write English in the appropriate sentence patterns that differ from the inverted and shorted sign language, otherwise they will be unable to effectively communicate with people who do not know sign language. Analogously, if students use text lingo, they are not effectively communicating on an academic and global level, two areas of essential importance. Students need to understand that, as George Orwell himself wrote, "Language is culture." If they limit themselves by using text language, how will they understand great works of literature, high school and college texts, etc.? They will be left behind and locked into the phone culture. Texting vocabulary has,indeed, created a dilemma as it interferes with the thinking that the formation of structured sentences helps to produce.
I completely agree with the above post. Text messaging has negatively impacted our students' ability to spell and write with proper grammar. The bottom line is that for students to improve their writing, they need to see constructive feedback on their own writing and plenty of examples of correctly written work.
One activity that I really enjoy doing with my middle school students is to give them samples of previously written papers concocted by students I have had in years past, complete with text-speak. Then I place them into groups with a writing rubric that is frequently used in my class and ask them to 'play' teacher. What corrections and suggestions would they make? I encourage them to channel the meanest, hardest teacher they can think of when correcting.
The end result is usually some papers bleeding red and quite a few students who have had an eye-opening experience as to what really makes a well-written paper. I like this approach because having the students critique an old paper is much less non-threatening and personal than if their own paper was being critiqued; it allows the students to be much more liberal with their suggestions and corrections!
I agree completely! Additionally, students need to understand that different audiences and different means of communication require different kinds of writing, in form and sometimes even in substance. Our adjustments are "code-switching," and aware or not, we do this all the time when we speak. As a tutor for an on-line company and in the classroom, I see "u," rather than "you," and dozens of other shortened versions and initials, some which are representative of obscenities if written out properly. I like to emphasize that we do not write to our friends the same way we write to our bosses, or to our grandmothers, for that matter. I don't like to tell students that it's "wrong" to use all of these shortcuts in texting, and in fact, I use many of them myself when I text. But they need to understand that it is wrong to do it in other contexts. One interesting way to get this point across is to assign a class to relate the same "story" in text, email, memo, and personal letter. This really helps them to get it.
I am a teacher and a VICTIM of texting language. I found this out when, in a note to parents, I actually wrote the words "u" for "you", and used a hashtag (#) when I made an apology for something else in the letter, saying #sosorry. It was ridiculous, and I immediately checked my other emails of the day to see if I had done the same thing.
My problem is that the exposure to "texting grammar" is so pervasive that it is more prone to remain stored in the student's long term memory than regular grammar. Moreover, it may currently be put to use more than regular grammar in the daily contact from student to student, Certainly, this is no state of emergency, but language teachers must staunchly insist in laying down the foundations for grammar to our millennial learners. Let us also be equally staunch about advocating against texting and driving.
Sadly, many students (mostly middle schoolers) seem to have no clue about the differences between formal and informal writing. Their constant texting, with no punctuation or capital letters and shortened word spellings, have crossed over into classroom writing, and many don't seem to understand that they do have a choice to write properly or not. I agree with the previous posts about using the red pen; lowered grades may be the only wake-up call for many students, and hopefully their parents will also take notice and take charge of their children's all-important writing discipline.
I think it's really just a matter of good old fashioned feedback. If students are writing frequently (short pieces for the most part), teachers can whip out the red pen and make sure students see what is appropriate for formal writing. Just saying it won't do it. They have to see it.