OMG! WTH r kidz riting 2day?
The Pew Internet and American Life Project asks this question, formally of course, in its April 24 study, “Writing, Technology and Teens.”
The study found nearly 64 percent of teens say they have used some form of written informality in their schoolwork. This can include failure to punctuate or capitalize properly, using Internet slang (often acronyms) or using “emoticons” (for example a colon and close parentheses mark to express a smiley face for happiness or levity).
In Chattanooga schools, teachers and administrators interviewed for this report say they haven’t seen much of this occurring in formal schoolwork but notice it more often in informal communications with students.
“That’s not a standard feature that would be accepted (in formal work),” said Perry Storey, principal of Notre Dame High School.
Generally, school authorities say, use of text slang in schoolwork would be treated the same as a grammatical error.
Amanda Pettit-Shaheen, an English teacher at Central High School, said she has seen her advanced-placement students write “IDK” (for “I don’t know”) on quizzes. She said her response is write “really?!” next to the acronym.
“Clearly a whole new vocabulary is being developed as part of the whole text-messaging process,” Mr. Storey said.
According to the Pew Research study, 85 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed engage in some form of electronic personal communication.
While students are more likely to forgo text-messaging slang and acronyms in school assignments, they often will forget to maintain a level of academic formality when communicating with their teachers via e-mail, dropping punctuation and using acronyms.
“You’d think they would think ‘Oh, I’m writing my English teacher,’ but they use acronyms and forget punctuation and capitalization,” Mrs. Pettit-Shaheen said.
Many teachers will forgive the informality in e-mails, because it’s a practice they themselves have grown accustomed to.
Gail Bell, head of the English department at Chattanooga Christian School, said she can excuse students for using numerals to express the words “to” and “for,” because she uses those informalities when e-mailing her friends. “(E-mail slang) is not to the point where I don’t understand it yet, and I’m older,” she said.
Chris Watkins, an English teacher at the Baylor School, is even grateful for his students’ Internet slang fluency at times. He relies on them to help translate e-mails from his 15-year-old goddaughter.
But does the acceptability of informal language, even in e-mails, make it harder for students to absorb proper writing skills?
“There’s not a lot of development in their sentences and not a lot of variety in their sentence structure,” said Mrs. Pettit-Shaheen.
Will Kesler, head of the English department at Girls Preparatory School, believes his students do a fairly good job of discerning what type of writing and language is appropriate given the environment, but said the amount of nontraditional writing encountered daily — in the forms of e-mails, text messages, faxes and memos — makes it ever more challenging for students, and adults, to overcome the growing acceptance of informality.
“I can’t remember the last time I wrote someone a letter,” he said.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington recently expressed concern about what he called the “slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought, the sentence.” Mr. Billington said he fears the disjointed prose of text messaging and chat-room discourse has damaged young Americans’ ability to write clearly.
Mr. Watkins said his students’ grasp of language is not as good as it ought to be, a problem he attributes largely to people simply not reading as much as they used to. Mr. Watkins said there is a concerted effort at Baylor to teach grammar and structure, but he still encounters the occasional homonym confusion — mixing up “you’re” and “your” or “they’re,” “their” and “there.”
Ms. Bell has taught in various school systems for about 20 years, including in Atlanta and Florida. She said problems with language and writing were more pervasive in the larger public schools.
In her current position, Ms. Bell has emphasized to students the importance of matching one’s language with one’s audience, especially after an incident where one student did in fact use shorthand on an essay.
“I think so many students take education casually, and they are so used to using the shorthand that they don’t even think anything about it,” said Mrs. Pettit-Shaheen. “I don’t know that they even recognize that they’re doing it.”
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...