Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When Students Write Online

When students write online, they use the Internet abbreviations that can test the nerves of readers used to standard written English. “Kids Have Their Own Language,” an article from WCPO-TV9, discusses how language shortcuts like LOL and G8 have become part of the everyday lingo for today’s students. The article touches on the conflict between this online language and the language of standard written English:

Given the popularity of texting and instant messaging, she said it’s no surprise that educators are finding more of the language in school classwork.

“They use it as a communication tool and, so when they write quickly, they will in a journal or informal writing assignment, it will come out as their shorthand for what they write.”

Rather than be viewed as a negative, [Beth] Rimer said at least kids are communicating . . . even if we don’t always know what about.
Student sending text messageAs Rimer suggests, we need to focus on the fact that kids are writing. They are communicating with other friends, expressing themselves, and having fun with language. What more could a writing teacher ask for?

I know. I know. We want them to make informed language decisions, but this challenge is not new. The slang and lingo of the moment has crept into students’ writing for as long as there have been students. All we have to do is talk about how audience and purpose relate to language use in a wider range of circumstances.

When I talk about audience and purpose with students, I usually propose writing situations and ask students to decide what kind of language is appropriate: What kind of language do you use in a letter to the editor of the school paper? What word choice is appropriate in a lab report? How would you adjust the language of a message about the same topic to two different audiences? In addition, however, we need to talk about the times when students are welcome to use Internet abbreviations. Consider the following possibilities:
  • What abbreviations are appropriate in personal journal entries?
  • What kind of language should you use on a peer review form?
  • What abbreviations can you use in the comments you write on someone else’s draft?
  • Can you use emoticons (or smileys) on the class e-mail list?
  • What language is appropriate for class blog entries and comments on class blogs?
In all of these instances, some form of Internet abbreviations is probably acceptable, and it’s just as important to talk about when Internet abbreviations are welcome in the classroom as it is to talk about when they should be avoided. If we’re lucky, some of the fun students have when they write on the Internet might transfer to their writing in the classroom—and what teacher wouldn’t be happier when students enjoy writing? :-)


Anonymous said...

Maybe this comes from being raised by a father who had a background in journalism, but at some point we have to actually have some standard as English teachers. Of course, making students aware of audience is essential, but I talk to my students about "paycheck English" and the fact that, no matter what language they use with friends or family, in my class we use paycheck English, the kind of appropriate language to the workplace. Do we really need to let down our standards simply to motivate our students? Does it always have to be fun? Why can't we actually begin to prepare them for some form of adult life, if such a thing exists anymore, by showing children that you have to do what is necessary, even if that means writing a whole word simply because that does the work of communicating beyond your little circle of friends (which is what writing is about, otherwise we might not have books or for that matter world religions). Maybe, instead of abandoning authority, we could actually teach.

Adrienne said...

To Anonymous:
I don't think that we are letting down any standards in order to motivate. Why is the "standard" different for a personal journal entry and a peer review form, than they are for a term paper? Well, the purpose and the audience are different. I don't think it has anything at all to do with "fun" but instead has to do with the functional nature of what the piece of writing is doing.

You said yourself: showing children that you have to do what is necessary. What if it is ONLY necessary for me to communicate to my little circle of friends, through an online discussion board, or a peer review form? Different types of writing have different purposes. Not EVERYTHING one writes is for the purpose of creating a book, or a world religion. I certainly do not think that by allowing abbreviations for certain purposes and audiences I am lowering my standards. Nor do I think I am abandoning authority. Rather, I think I really AM teaching my students about what is appropriate, and when.

Letitia Harding said...

While I am in total agreement with maintaining high standards of excellence in the classroom, I also believe that students must be able to see that the work they do in school is in some way relevant to their real lives. Instructors should use each writing oportunity as a way to inspire students to look at how their work will be received by their audience. Communication must always be the focus, and if "online shorthand" is appropriate, who are we to silence the writer. When I was in my teens and twenties, shorthand was considered a valuable atribute and a means to a good job with excellent prospects. Why is it that our grandmothers and mothers were expected to learn shorthand and valued for their prowess in this field, yet their grandchildren and children are condemned?

Anonymous said...

I like the point that Letitia makes regarding shorthand. I tell my students that language is living and breathing and always undergoing changes. We also talk about audience and purpose and I think most of them (8th grade) are astute enough to understand the differences. Let them write to have fun and have fun when they write. I would rather read something written with voice and then work with my students on conventions then the other way around.

Anonymous said...

I took a year's "leave" after two years of teaching and worked in advertising. At one firm, I wrote classified ads for a professional journal. I used abbreviations much like the current txt ones, and I sometimes forgot and used them in communications w/stdnts whn I began tchng 1nc mre.
1 never knows whn lrng becomes useful again.

Janet said...

I just began blogging with my 8th grade students. They love it. These brief questions, editing situations, etc. are graded and expected to be in proper English. When they meet me in the chatroom to ask class questions, etc., they are allowed to use their texting skills. Students are doing work that they would hate to do on paper, but love this new way to do assignments.

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