While I am delighted that the students I teach write far more than students who came before, it seems that when they are not writing for us, when they are emailing or IMing, they don’t really think they are writing.
Students separate their formal and casual writing. Electronic communication is associated more with phone calls and between class hallway greetings.
Yesterday, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released its latest study, Writing, Technology, & Teens. The national study was conducted with 700 teens and parents through telephone conversations and focus group discussions. It confirms the worry expressed by Librarian of Congress, James Billington earlier this month, when he suggested that electronic communication is responsible for the "slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought, the sentence.”
Though the report addresses email/IM bleed, the good news is, it seems, that teens recognize that good writing is essential to success. Teens want to know more about how to write better. And they want us to help them.
You’ll want to share these results with teachers, especially English teachers.
Among the findings of the 83-page report:
The state of writing among teens today is marked by an interesting paradox: While teens are heavily embedded in a tech-rich world and craft a significant amount of electronic text, they see a fundamental distinction between their electronic social communications and the more formal writing they do for school or for personal reasons.
- 85% of youth ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.
- 60% of teens do not think of these electronic texts as "writing."
- Teens are utilitarian in their approach to technology and writing, using both computers and longhand depending on circumstances. Their use of computers for school and personal writing is often tied to the convenience of being able to edit easily. And while they do not think their use of computers or their text-based communications with friends influences their formal writing, many do admit that the informal styles that characterize their e-communications do occasionally bleed into their schoolwork.
- 57% of teens say they revise and edit more when they write using a computer.
- 63% of teens say using computers to write makes no difference in the quality of the writing they produce.
- 73% of teens say their personal electronic communications (email, IM, text messaging) have no impact on the writing they do for school, and 77% said they have no impact on the writing they do for themselves.
- 64% of teens admit that they incorporate, often accidentally, at least some informal writing styles used in personal electronic communication into their writing for school. (Some 25% have used emoticons in their school writing; 50% have used informal punctuation and grammar; 38% have used text shortcuts such as "LOL" meaning "laugh out loud.")
the opportunity to choose topics relevant to their own lives and experiences, and the chance to write for teachers and other adults who challenge them. Teens feel encouraged by opportunities to write creatively, and spoke of the motivation of having an audience for their work.
In his response to the report, Richard Sterling, chair of the advisory board for the National Commission on Writing, executive director emeritus of the National Writing Project and senior fellow at the College Board said:
We think these findings point to a critical strategy question for all educators: How can we connect the enthusiasm of young people for informal, technology-based writing with classroom experiences that illuminate the power of well-organized, well-reasoned writing?
Sousan Arafeh, who led the focus group part of the project noted:
Teens understand that learning to write well is a growth process, even if sometimes it feels like the educational equivalent of "eating your vegetables."