Can Texting Develop Other Writing Skills?

| August 15, 2012 | 27 Comments
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Flickr: English106

As more schools begin allowing students to bring their own devices and actually use them in class, the debate around the value of “digital writing” — texting, taking notes on mobile devices, tweeting, etc. — is heating up.

Some educators (and even a linguistic expert) believe kids who text are exercising a different, additional muscle when texting, writing, and note-taking — and that skill is actually adding to a student’s growing and changing repertoire.

“Children know that when you’re in school, you do not use texting language,” said linguistics expert Susana Sotillo, an associate professor at Montclair State University in an article in the North Jersey Record. “…No one is destroying the English language; the English language just keeps changing. It’s not a good idea to present change as a negative aspect.”

“Our students write more than any generation in history. They have to be doing something right.”

The ability to switch between formal writing and texting comes naturally to kids, tweets Sunightingale in response to the article above. “Kids know how to code-switch by learning when to text-talk & when to use a grammatical register: language evolution :),” she writes.

Critics of this genre of writing fervently disagree with the premise. “Seriously? As a teacher, I do not accept texting language. Texting is ABSOLUTELY hurting youth’s grammar and spelling. I can’t believe this is even a debate!” writes Cindy Barnes Herron in response to the link to the article on Facebook.

Apart from anecdotal evidence from educators and parents, research of this subject is also contradictory. The New Jersey Record article cites a study showing that kids who “recently sent or received a text message performed considerably worse on a grammar exam than those who had not.” The study included 228 kids age 10-14. This shows that traditional writing is being compromised, according to S. Shyam Sundar, a professor of communications quoted in the article.

But these findings are being contradicted by Sotillo, the proponent of texting, who says going back and forth between texting and traditional language expands kids’ vocabulary.

THE VALUE OF DIGITAL WRITING

Apart from whether texting is degrading or adding value to traditional writing, there are other factors to consider when it comes to the digital writing genre. Jeff Gabrill, a writing professor at Michigan State University, and his colleagues just released a study called Revisualizing Composition: Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students.

The study, which examined 1,366 students enrolled in first-year writing class, shows that texts on mobile devices, emails, and lecture notes are “three of the most frequently written genres (or types) of writing.” In fact, almost half of the participants — 46 percent — said that “texting was the kind of writing that they performed more than any other.”

Compared to school work, students surveyed said they valued texting (47 percent), writing academic papers (45 percent), and taking lecture notes (43 percent), as the top three most valuable forms of writing. “This was surprising to us,” Gabrill said at a talk at the recent SXSWEdu conference. “The lore for writing and literacy teachers is that students would rather be beaten with a stick than do writing work, but it’s not true.”

But what’s also noteworthy is here that 93 percent of participants said they wrote for personal fulfillment. Why’s this important? “This finding is especially interesting given the fact that participants were solicited through academic avenues (e.g. college email addresses, course websites) and sometimes took the survey in college classrooms, where we might expect them to focus on school-sponsored motivations for writing.”

And that might be the connection between texting and “work” writing — one form might feed and facilitate the other.

“Our students write more than any generation in history,” Gabrill said. “They have to be doing something right.”

Gabrill said some of his colleagues “freak out” when they see students typing on their cell phones. “They want all the attention on them, and they think that many are screwing around,” he said. “I just assume that I’m so engaging that they actually are using their devices to write notes.”

Students’ mobile devices are legitimate platforms for writing, Gabrill argues, and it would behoove schools and teachers to accommodate what changes that might bring on.

“We are in the midst of massive changes in our writing lives,” he said. “Digital writing matters, and our challenge in education is to figure out how it matters in order to ensure that we can be useful to those interested in leveraging it.”

 

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  • Guest44

    In my experience, those who fight change waste time. Find a way to incorporate the new into the old and participate in the development of the future. Compare/ contrast. Modify. Innovate. 

    • orange gearle

      VERY well said. Succinct. Accurate.

  • http://twitter.com/Tanishab4 Tanishab

    like Kevin implied I’m surprised that a single mom can earn $9747 in one month on the network. did you look at this(Click on menu Home)

  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com/ Psbarnwell

    We certainly need to acknowledge that digital writing forms must be taught and evaluated.  However, it seems a great stretch to place value on texting.  If, indeed, students “writing” is marginally enhanced by texting, then we must examine what other writing/communication forms suffer as a result of texting.  In my experience as a teacher, students who aren’t big texters are much more coherent, thoughtful writers.

  • detroitteacher

    I couldn’t disagree more with these findings. Naturally, I don’t have access to their data but I can say that the ability to switch between text speak and proper English only happens when you first have a firm command of the rules. My own experience as a teacher for ten years is all the proof I need to refute this logic. I have seen countless students turn in papers using abbreviations (B4 is my personal favorite) and misspellings that can only be attributed to “text speak”.  I have no problem with the language of texting but when certain “scholars” advocate its use believing that there are not academic consequences, that’s where I get offended. 

    • chetcromer

      Would you accept a term paper written in shorthand? Probably not, and for good reason. It certainly isn’t a “formal” writing method, either, but it DOES have it’s place. Our youth are “inventing” this new flavor of getting thought out quickly and in a disorganized fashion, and it’s a prime opportunity for families, teachers, and yes, even responsible students, to help them understand and apply the appropriate place for it.

  • Michelle Anderson

    Obviously, the professor works at college level. I am a high school English teacher and I will tell you students do NOT know the difference between text language or as I call it, “textology”, i.e…”4mydogz”. I agree that texting allows students to practice some form of creative writing since they have to develop their own thoughts, but when it comes to classroom writing it is a nightmare. I have to walk my ninth graders through the acceptable and not acceptable writing. Some students really do not know the difference. When the culminating essays are turned in at the end of the year after much coaching and there are ALWAYS students who will write, “LOL” in an essay or use research without citing the correct information. Many of my students do not know how to use the internet or to decipher what is legitimate information versus Wikipedia, which they would refer to as, “bible” in textology that translates into the real deal. I embrace technology, but I also think we are looking at a slippery slope without some intense guidance.

    • Courtney Davies

      As a recent high school graduate, I would argue that the problem doesn’t lie with texting, it rests with teachers who don’t do their jobs, and students who don’t care. You can’t claim that this grammar and spelling problem started with mainstream texting, or even emails for that matter. There’s now an obvious thing to blame it on, because text language is easily identified. I believe it’s unfair to be so resistant to change in a language that is so infamous for its constant evolution. Texting allows people to express themselves, even if they have horrible grammar. While I agree that there should be separation between texting and school or business writing, I don’t think that most people are seeing what a great tool this could be in education. Get students to fall in love with writing, and then create a smooth, grammatically correct writer. I also genuinely hope that the examples of “textology” you provided were merely to add some comedic relief to the comment, because I have never witnessed anyone saying anything remotely close to that.

  • Art Aficionado

    IMO it helps people condense their thoughts into a more compact writing style. Brevity is the soul of wit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/curiousdwk David Kimball

      Their brevity is because they are reacting to something and not reflecting. Their’s is not the soul of wit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/curiousdwk David Kimball

    Sotillo says, “the English language just keeps changing. It’s not a good idea to present change as a negative aspect.” I think that Sotillo should stop being an apologetic for texting long enough to take a course in critical analysis. This is a preposterous statement assuming that all changes are good. Of course they aren’t. Some are but some aren’t.
    From my experiece, kids are writing more, but saying less. Everything they say is a reaction. There is little writing done from reflection. When we speak of writing being a good exercise for school, work, etc. we are referring to writing from reflection – not reaction. Again, this whole article fails to distinguish the two and so confuses the issue.

  • Julia C. Beeman

    “Writing more” is NOT equivalent to writing BETTER! “Texting, writing academic papers and taking lecture notes” may be “most valuable” to the younger generation, but these are not necessarily conducive to GOOD writing. Journalistic and analytical writing are often emphasized in school at the expense of creative writing – the two are quite different in purpose. Texting cannot be considered as anything more than a type of shorthand, a technical tool, so may or may not be useful to the serious writer.

  • John

    Texting is not writing. It is not effective communication, although meaningful in certain social contexts, and encouraging its use in formal education does not create a better trained, prepared workforce for America…has anyone recently seen a technical journal, press release or legal brief published in LOL ROFL format?

    In my own recent experience, while using an expensive chat program in a dynamic operation, some of my supervised personnel could not differentiate between “witch” and “which,” and I see this as a direct failure of this texting movement. If a high school graduate can’t master 5th grade spelling, why should I trust him with expensive equipment?

  • L

    I recently retired from an agency where we had a written policy, which was carefully explained to new hires, that all documents that would be sent to others or made part of an official record had to be written in standard business English. Despite that, I constantly had to force recent college graduates to re-write such documents in standard English rather than textish. Some pouted. Some honestly didn’t understand what I was talking about. Getting these kids to put down their electronic toys and make eye contact with another human being for a few minutes was a struggle. We are in real trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=93403828 Jeff Johnson

    I have taught English for 26 years. Before computers, we led creative, productive lives, but when I announce this in my classrooms, my students blink in disbelief, and go back to sneaky texting beneath the tables, half listening to me, not at all listening to themselves.

  • Mark Novak

    U bet it helps 4 sure.

  • Nova

    The only “writing improvement” that kids will experience from texting will be the paperwork they have to fill out in court after they get in a car accident while texting at the wheel.

  • Soup

    As a recent high school graduate and admitted frequent texter (I’ve been known to surpass 5000 to 10000 messages sent in a month) I don’t think that texting in itself is any detriment to writing ability. Granted, I haven’t done any studies on texting, so all of my experience with the subject is merely anecdotal, but I feel as if texting can actually improve a student’s writing, so long as they don’t abbreviate, truncate, or generally defile the words that they’re sending. Texting in proper english — so long as you know proper english already — can help to reinforce proper grammar at the least. If there’s any related improvement, I don’t deny that it’s likely marginal, but at the same time, I strongly doubt any decline in writing ability as a result of texting. If you’re a bad writer, you’re going to be a bad writer regardless of how much you text. Even if there’s marginal correlation, actual causation (more texting causes worse writing) seems very unlikely.

  • Kappa

    As a classroom teacher I will say that while teaching appropriate use of technology is important, texting has damaged students ability to write formally because they wire as they text. They forget the basic rules of writing and their ability to describe and answer thoroughly has seemingly been limited by their 140 character limit via twitter.

    • Kappa

      Write…even I have been affected by autocorrect

  • ErnieS

    The important part of this article is where is says that kids who “recently sent or received a text message performed considerably worse on a grammar exam than those who had not.” Yes, there is a time and place for all things and change is a good thing in general. But many different studies over the years show that focusing on the task at hand will help the learning process.

    Distractions need to be avoided when learning something new. Unplug while in class and build solid neural pathways that will last a lifetime.

  • http://twitter.com/techszewski Tom Banaszewski

    If texting does indeed increase the amount of writing that students produce daily then that might make some of the Common Core folks happy. I read recently that the new Common Core Standards expect students to be writing 2-3 pages daily (equivalent of a 2-3 pages typed in length). The decline of grammar is not really my issue with texting. It’s how it feeds a habit of superficial communication. If you’re sending snippets of memorable prose or something that sounds like poetry, that’s a different story. But most of the time texting just allows us to keep our distance from people while sort of feeling connected to something. Hardly a healthy habit, yet it’s here to stay.

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  • CollegeBookRenter

    I have to admit my daughter’s writing skills increased when she started to role play on forums online. Texting on her phone didn’t help it though as too many use some shorter form of words. But I have to give props to the books we rented from http://www.collegebookrenter.com, reading those books also helped her writing skills.

  • Jony

    I don’t think so. People use slang language and short forms while writing any content and this habit can cause problem while writing in professional way. So it is necessary to keep this habit away for being a good writer. If anyone has this habit then he can use proofreading services to remove typos which he has made.

    Reference: http://docfixers.com/

  • Guest

    I am a high school student, and I think it does not help at all. There are too many people that say “your” instead of “you’re’ because they’re used to typing “ur” for both of them, and now, they cannot tell the difference. The same goes for “to” and “too”.