1/03/2012

Effects on student writing

Student writing is taking an interesting turn, don't you think? There are currently far more forms of writing than ever before. It ranges from traditional hand writing to the recent social media phenomenon. These writing mediums are all influencing one another in subtle and not so subtle ways. Lets take a quick look at some of what's going on. Contrary to popular opinion, there is plenty of handwriting going on. For example, it's still taught in primary schools whereas students don't learn to type till much latter. Plus, nearly everyone handwrites their class notes largely because there aren't many alternatives to pen and paper (especially in math class!).

On the other hand, do kids even pass notes in the hallway anymore? I think they only text each other to keep up with the local gossip. Once they get home from school, they start working on homework... right after updating Facebook  and Tweeting a little. They let their friends know how they're doing in 140 characters or less. Texting and posting on social media is an amazing feat of of encapsulation. They take dozens of feelings and events and boil them down to just a few sentences! Imagine how great it would be if students would apply that ability to summarize our last lecture.

Of course, word processors are ubiquitous in education. Whether using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, students nearly always type essays or research papers. And it makes sense. Their teachers really don't want to deal with paper fringes or sloppy penmanship. Plus, there are no spell checkers in a pencil. What student would ever want to turn in a paper without a computer to proof read it for them.

So what are all of these writing forms doing to a student's ability to put thoughts down on a page? One clear effect is on spelling. In the past few years I've seen students inserting "cuz" instead of "because", "pple" instead of people or even "l8r" instead of "later". These text abbreviations are even put into graded essays. The other thing that I've noticed is a decline in complex sentences. Most of my students write in small, easy to read sentences. Since these are the same kids that send short blurbs to others everyday while texting, its little wonder that sentences should shrink. Word processors have actually improved student writing, though. Or at least they can. A word processor can allow students to easily brainstorm, manipulate text and edit on the fly. If they are using an online editor like Google Docs, students can also collaborate on writing and teach each other in real time.

So it's clear that student writing is going to continue to evolve. It also seems clear that much of that change will be driven by the multitude of writing media available today.