Internet slang in schools: part 2
Apparently this problem is even more widespread than I thought:
Tia Burnett couldn't believe what she was seeing when students turned in work that looked more like an instant-message conversation than an English assignment.
Some of her students at Orange High School in New Jersey's Essex County started sneaking abbreviations — "u" for "you," "2" for "to" and "4" for "for" — into their papers and other class assignments.
Burnett quickly put a stop to it.
"I would remind students not to use abbreviations in writing. This is casual e-mail language," said Burnett, who is in her first year as language-arts supervisor for grades 7-12.
Teachers, administrators and businesspeople say abbreviations commonly used in e-mails, instant messaging and text messages are creeping into assignments and formal writing, and some believe it is hurting the way students think.
Tom Moran, English supervisor at East Brunswick High School in Middlesex County, N.J., said the pace of electronic communication has "infected" some students' writing.
"E-mails are usually composed at lightning speeds, without any concern about editing, clarity or word choice," Moran said. "This is fine, since most e-mails are not meant to stand alone as polished pieces of prose. The problem arises when students begin thinking at that speed without pausing to consider what, exactly, they are saying."
The volume of electronic communication is growing at a startling pace. During the first six months of 2006, 64.8 billion text messages were sent, nearly double the first half of 2005.
The effects vary, scholars said.
In Canada, two university professors concluded there is no adverse impact on syntax or the formation of sentences. In their study, University of Toronto linguistics professors Derek Denis and Sali Tagliamonte found that although students may be text-messaging, most messages don't contain abbreviated words.
"In our corpus of over a million words, all the IM forms accounted for only about 2 percent," Denis said, noting they studied 70 teens during 2004 and 2005. "Though these teens are using more informal language than in their speech, they are also using more formal variables as well."
"This tells us that teens are using English vibrantly, creatively and are able to use it correctly."
That may be the case for Canadian teens, but Rutgers University lecturer Alex Lewis says he teaches freshmen basic writing mechanics and grammar in his expository-writing course.
"These kids spend an enormous amount of time writing, but their formal understanding of writing is limited," Lewis said.
Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington, pointed out that some IM and texting abbreviations have histories that predate the computer revolution — "w/" for "with," for instance — and are likely to remain a part of language.
"I would not be surprised to see some of these abbreviations around several decades from now," Baron said. "Similarly, an abbreviation such as 'LOL' (laugh out loud) or 'BTW' (by the way) might stick, while others, such as 'OMG' (oh my God) or 'IMHO' (in my humble opinion) might pass — through the luck of the draw."
I've told my students that their skills at text-messaging can help them in one very important way: for taking notes during class discussions. Otherwise, I should not see them use this lingo anywhere else in their written work.
One point in this article did strike me in particular. I have the hardest time getting kids to see that they need to actually edit their work. They need to understand the difference between writing quick shots of text to their friends and writing in a more formal context.
I had a conversation with a young lady last week regarding her garbled sentences. She didn't understand why her paper received such a low grade. The problem was, she had culled academic-sounding terms from her research, yet didn't really understand the nuances of the terms she used. She felt that she had an inadequate vocabulary and was trying to overcompensate. She was also surprised when I read her paper to her, one sentence at a time. Then the awkwardness was apparent. She realized she had fallen into the common problem of THINKING she had written something that she hadn't.
What distresses me is that these students have all grown up hearing about the writing process. Yet they still don't get to the editing part of it.