English teacher Carrie Beth Buchanan sees the effects of students’ growing up in an age when communication is done in an abbreviated text language and where they depend on autocorrect to automatically solve the “i before e” literary dilemma.
“In my classroom, I can already see the negative effects,” said the English Department chair at Clay-Chalkville High School and a participant in the UAB For Teachers By Teachers grant program. “Many high school students have become dependent on electronic spell-checkers. As a result, I spend a significant amount of time circling misspelled words on assignments.”
This begs the question: Could text language and autocorrect technologies have an effect on writing skills? UAB experts offer thoughts and tips.
Embrace the change: “New technologies will, as they always have, influence how we gain and use knowledge,” said Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of English. “This kind of shift can be frightening to those of us who learned to use language through a different approach, or who value some aspects of English that are currently being dismissed as less important. The fact is that what constitutes literacy changes over time.”
“For any of us to be effective communicators, we have to be able to adhere to conventions that others share,” Ryan said.
It is not bad, just different — but be careful: Texting is just another genre of writing, says Tonya Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the UAB School of Education. It is up to the parents and teachers to remind youngsters when and when not to use it.
“Basically, how students write should fit the audience and occasion for which they are writing,” Perry said. “When students text, they’re writing in a particular genre and for an informal audience. Texting as a genre has space considerations and expectations, which warrant using abbreviations for phrases such as LOL, symbols like 2 for two, and just as few characters as possible. On the other hand, when students submit a final paper, they have written, revised and edited in another genre and for a more formal audience. In this case, of course, we’d expect the words to be complete and correctly spelled.”
Pick up a pen and paper: Buchanan gets research papers from her students that are riddled with misspellings or written in an abbreviated language. She says that parents need to emphasize the importance of correct spelling by having students complete paper and pen classwork and homework assignments that prevent students from using autocorrect.
Depending solely on that technology can be tempting; but for the sake of becoming better writers and spellers, she says, students should be required to revise any errors so they can learn from mistakes.
Talk it out and find the fun: “I think parents should always aim to keep the conversation about language going with their children, making sure they understand the meanings of words in context and the importance of using precise language to express themselves,” Ryan said.
“Kids might begin to see language as 100 percent formulaic, and that takes a lot of the fun and purpose out of the writing process,” she said. “As long as kids are writing in context, meaning that they are aiming to communicate with a specific audience for a particular purpose, they are learning; and learning is always a good thing.”
Technology will not replace good, old-fashioned writing: “I tell students never to depend wholly on an available program or other technology to be the final word on their selection of words and phrasing,” Ryan said. “Context is key, and neither autocorrect, a thesaurus nor any other kind of resource can be counted on to do the work for the writer.
“What we write matters because it’s based on our individual thoughts and ways of shaping these thoughts through language. A computer program or other external device can’t do the real work of writing for us.”