New Messages on Texting

Students texting copyright PixDeluxe iStockPhoto #000014390567 cropped
Photo copyright PixDeluxe, iStockPhoto #000014390567 (cropped)

Could texting be good for literacy? Some early and brief studies are suggesting that it might not hurt as much as you fear. Students who spell well in general can still spell after texting. And anything that gets kids reading, writing, and playing with language might work.

In a report by Ki Mae Heussner for ABC News, Kathleen Blake Yancey of Florida State University summarizes, “Basically what you have is a small line of research showing that texting helps people read and helps them write, both, and then you have a lot of anecdotes and anxiety. That’s basically it.” Heussner continues that Yancey “has heard of textspeak slipping into students’ formal written work. But, while she doesn’t doubt that it’s there, she said the research doesn’t support it and at the college level, they don’t see it at all. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that students perceive a ‘firewall’ between their texting and their formal writing.”

Well, I certainly do see it. I could share anecdotes, and I do have to teach most students that a firewall should exist, but I can confirm that these are usually students who didn’t spell well to begin with. And texting does give us wonderful openings to teach about audience, tone, purpose, and levels of formality. (See my post on Txt Translation.)

Connine Varnhagen of the University of Alberta observes that “just as kids know to speak to their grandparents differently than they speak to their peers, they know when to use so-called textspeak and when to use conventional language.” (Let’s hope so.)

I wonder how these studies will play out over time and in varying populations. Here’s the news report: Can Txt Msgs Really Help Kidz 2 Spell?

At one point, it appeared that letter-writing would be replaced by long-distance phone calling. Now we have people with unlimited cell phone minutes who prefer writing–e-mail or texting instead of calling. It’s literacy’s new stand.

However, I’ve now acquired a different fear. Whenever I see kids standing side-by-side texting each other instead of opening their mouths, I worry they’ll take that into marriage, texting across the living room. I take comfort in knowing that it sounds more like a slippery slope logical fallacy than the truth. And I’m trusting that the human drive to communicate–by whatever methods become possible, necessary, and ubiquitous–will see us through every communication revolution.