OMG! City teachers alarmed as IM speak sneaks into students writing
Principal Dr. Gregory Hodge works with students at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem (photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY)
By Stephen J. Bronner
Special to amNewYork
R students getting bad writing habits in school cuz of texting and instant messaging?
While text messaging and twittering may be easy ways to communicate, its leaving teens and young adults with a mess of misspellings, improper abbreviations and poor grammar in the classroom, city educators say.
Patrizia Fernandes, a seventh grade teacher at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, sees the use of texting shorthand in class firsthand. Some students will respond IDK (I dont know) when Fernandes asks them a question, and she sees OMG (oh my God) used in their essays.
Its hard for kids to differentiate between essay language, IM language and proper oral speech between friends and adults, said Fernandes, who teaches language arts. It's almost becoming new language.Gregory Hodge, principal of Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, agreed that electronic communications have developed a new language.
The advent of new technology has created new challenges, he said. Hodges students have adopted abbreviations and the short style of texts and instant messaging in their essays, including students applying to college, who felt 100 words were enough for a 300-word essay. However, he looks at the positives of new technology as well, and pointed out that students have greater access to information, making them savvier.
Its kind of exciting to watch, Hodge said.
Most students denied using text or IM slang in their work, but John Sfiris, 20, of Queens, a student at Queensborough Community College, admitted to sometimes using "u" for "you and "r" for "are" but then fixing it immediately. "It's something subconscious," he said.
Others say theyve done their best to keep the shorthand out of the classroom.
The only time I write like that is with friends. If youre in a rush you wont realize (you made a mistake) until its over, said Michael, a 14-year-old high school student who wouldnt give his last name.
Caution, though, may go away under pressure, suggested David Humphries, a Queensborough Community College assistant professor of English. He said he'd see essays from students start out well but then a few pages in he'll see errors like "thru," "b/c," "BTW" and "nite."
"They're forming habits that pop through when they're in a rush," he said. "I do wonder how that translates into the work world."
A majority of teens engage in electronic communications, according to a Pew Research survey conducted last year.
Even though 60 percent of teens surveyed dont see texts as writing, many acknowledge that the quick exchanges do impact their schoolwork. Half of the surveyed teens admitted they sometimes write in an informal style, not using proper capitalization and punctuation. Text slang like LOL managed to get into 38 percent of students work and a quarter of students even said they used emoticons in their writing.
David Crystal, a professor of linguistics at the United Kingdoms University of Wales, Bangor, who writes on the English language and electronic communications, defends the language of texts and instant messaging and said he doesnt hear about its effects on students work. Youd have to be pretty dumb to not see the difference between texting style and essay style, he said in an email. Or, putting this another way, teachers who let kids think the difference doesnt matter wouldnt be doing their job.
He actually makes the argument that communicating electronically helps students write better.
Reading and writing improve with practice, he said. Texting provides that practice. As does IM, and other forms of Internet communication.
Still, Crystals perceptions dont seem to reflect those of local teachers. Fernandes is making a point of helping her students leave the shorthand and misspellings where theyre acceptable on their phones.
I make them correct themselves and rewrite so they know the difference, she said. Its hard for them to break the habit.
Ten common Internet abbreviations:
R - Are
IDK - I dont know
OMG - Oh my god
BRB - Be right back
BTW - By the way
BFF - Best friends forever
LOL - Laughing out loud
JK - Just kidding