When Ami Kulik graded the first set of language arts papers from her eighth grade students at Kennedy Junior High in Naperville this school year, she was surprised none of them wrote lines such as "The play was 2 gud 2 b tru." That’s text-speak for "The play was too good to be true."
For the past four or five years, the shorthand the text generation uses to communicate with their BFFs has tended to slip into the first writing assignment each school year. The most common errors: 4 rather than for, 2 rather than to. This year, she thinks she scared them straight when she told them she would deduct 5 percent for each infraction.
"My 5 percent off rule really freaked this class out," says Kulik, who has been teaching for 12 years.
She is not the only teacher fighting to teach kids that there’s a difference between informal and formal communication. The public education Web site, Edutopia, wrote about the problem and asked teachers, "IYO txtng = NME or NBD?" Translation: "In your opinion, is text messaging the enemy or no big deal?" The results were about evenly split between teachers who say their students are texting their way through English writing assignments and those who believe students understand that it’s OK to communicate one way with friends, but that class assignments require a more formal approach to writing.
Timothy Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says there is no research providing a definitive answer to the question of whether texting hurts kids’ ability to write in proper English.
But, he says, "if you look at studies of young kids inventing their own spelling … in some cases, there are clear benefits from it … (children) have to think through the problem more thoroughly than if they’re just memorizing language and spitting it back."
In addition, some experts suggest that texting might help students take better notes. Kulik says that could be true once they reach high school. But her eighth-graders aren’t there yet. They don’t take notes unless she explicitly instructs them to write something down.