This article is Part I of a three-part series on texting, students, and writing skills.
It’s really not good if someone texts you this: IMO URA IWIAM (In my opinion, you’re an idiot wrapped in a moron.) So creative! English teachers just wish the students would be that clever in their essays. Ironically, a quick online search of texting dictionaries also reveals the meaning of SNERT: Snot nosed egotistical rude teenager. What? I didn’t know TEACHERS and PARENTS were texting, too!
According to a recent survey reported by The Pew Internet & American Life Project, 85 percent of teens engage “at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.” Sixty percent of teens do not think of these electronic texts as “writing.”
In her New York Times article “Texting May Be Taking a Toll,” Katie Hafner says, “They do it late at night when their parents are asleep. They do it in restaurants and while crossing busy streets. They do it in the classroom with their hands behind their back. They do it so much their thumbs hurt.” She reports that “American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008” (according to the Nielsen Company). That’s almost 80 messages a day and more than double the average of the previous year. We all know this number didn't go down in 2009!
So, we are aware that teenagers are developing physical problems from all this texting (some new kind of carpal tunnel syndrome on their thumbs, seriously!) But what effect is all this texting having on students' ability to write? Even more significant, what effect is it having on their ability to THINK? This series of articles will examine these issues.
Importance of the issue
The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that “83% of parents of teens feel there is a greater need to write well today than there was 20 years ago,” and “86% of teens believe good writing is important to success in life." Every teacher and business owner in America could verify the truth of that.
To illustrate the level of concern by professionals, The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported the veiws of James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, who recently suggested that young Americans’ electronic communication might be damaging “the basic unit of human thought – the sentence.”
A recent Business Week article, “Memo to Students: Writing Skills Matter,” reports that “only 51% of all high school students who took the college entrance exam are prepared for college-level reading, according to a report released . . . by the American College Testing Program (ACT)."
Examples of Emails from students to professors
One problem that has become evident to college professors since the dawn of the digital age is that most students have no concept of appropriate communication. The following examples may be hard to believe, but they are indeed real.
Message: I dont have you for in my online
Message: what the course is for pre algebra
A pitiful appeal to pity
Message: This is [xxx] from math 0312 i am sorry i missed the test today an emergency came up i was wondering if thier was anything i can do to make it up? thanks
Message: My sinus's have been really bad lately and i couldnt attend class today. I have a real bad sinus headache and i have a sore throat. I feel like i am to weak to even walk. I was just wondering what we did in class today or if there is anything i need to do for monday! I know i have to read that one poem. I just dont know the name of it.
Message: i was wondering when i could have a chance at retaking that test on oedipus im srry i missed the class i didnt mean to i got food poisining that day early in the morning please contact me back im not sure if ur getting mi emails r not
As a teacher, am I leaning toward feeling sorry for you now? Or am I just annoyed?
But, wait, there's more:
Message: I sent my rough draft just now. I was omitted into the hospital two days ago and was not discharged till late yesterday.”
Message: What all does dear sweel ole cheerful me, need to have ready for tomm nights class?
A message to the students out there: Do you want your professor or boss to think you are a moron? We ARE judged by what we write. You also have to remember that the older generation is different from your generation and is perhaps more sensitive to decorum, basic manners, respectful communication.
From the students' perspective
A high school AP teacher recently asked her students this:
“Is the prevalence of text messaging affecting the writing skills of your generation? WDYT? (What do you think?)” "IYO txtng = NME or NBD?" Translation: "In your opinion, is texting the enemy, or no big deal?"
The students responded to the teacher's question:
“This is really hard to break when you are use to texting at least 80% of the day. Even down to me, when I right a paper I find myself writing in text format, not because I don’t know how to write formally but because it is a hard habit to break.”
“As great as texting is there should be a clear line between text talk and formal school writing, and I just dont see that happening any time soon and so our writing will continue to suffer until this problem is fixed.”
Obviously, everyone knows there is a problem. Part II of this series will provide additional recent studies, as well as a discussion of what teachers and businesses are doing to combat the problem.