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Michelle Grose May 1, 2008 Final Project Digital Shorthand in the Classroom: Here 2day, here 2mrw?

“When Dimsdale was seen on the scaffold, it was such an OMG moment. This was the moment I knew 4 sure that he was Pearl’s father.” This may seem like a text message between friends about The Scarlet Letter. However, this is an answer given to AP English teacher Heidi Steeves on a unit test. “Students use shorthand constantly in assignments and journaling, but for the first time, this year my junior AP English students have turned in papers and tests with shorthand and slang, like ‘OMG’ and ‘fav,’ ” Steeves said. “Students have become lethargic and do not take the time to proofread, edit and truly think before writing because texting and email are so fast. They do not see the need in taking a few minutes to think out a complete sentence. Some have become unwilling to take pride in papers.” Steeves is referring to the influence of text messaging lingo and Internet slang that has crept its way into the classroom. During her 10 years as a teacher, she has noticed an increase in the amount of digital slang that is being used in classroom assignments. Teachers all over are dealing with the influence of digital slang, also referred to as SMS language, text speak and electronic slang. “Many students use informal language on formal papers,” high school English teacher Mary Beth Talley said. “They use ‘cuz’ in stead of ‘because’, the number ‘4’ in place of ‘for’ and ‘gonna’ and ‘wanna’ instead of writing it out in full.” For some students, the line between formal language, traditionally used in the classroom and business world, and informal slang is blurred. Teachers have always

taught that the use of slang and shorthand does not belong in writing assignments, but this new breed of shorthand is proving to be more difficult to control. “In the classroom, ‘I’ is expected to be capitalized, ‘you’ and ‘are’ are three-letter words and numbers should not be substituted for letters,” Talley said. “These basic grammar and language rules taught in elementary grades should not be issues in high school.” Steeves and Talley are not alone in their frustration. Digital shorthand has become so popular in recent years, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in cooperation with The National Commission on Writing, released a study focusing on teenage writing. They asked more than 700 students to evaluate their own writing and communication practices. They reported that 85 percent of teenagers engage in some form of electronic communication regularly. Even though 73 percent claim that it has no influence on their writing, 64 percent admit to using digital shorthand in their schoolwork, and 25 percent said they use emoticons, like smiley faces to express emotion. Researchers suggest that the use of digital slang in schoolwork is related to the amount of digital communication each student uses. They reported that the average student spends about 20 hours a week texting, using an instant messaging system on the computer or blogging. Teenagers are writing for fun more today than before. They develop creative ways of expressing traditional words and phrases, but do not have a clear understanding of when not to use them. As the world becomes more digital, and texting and the Internet become primary forms of communication, teachers need to create a plan of action to stay a step ahead of their students. How are they supposed to deal with the strong influence of digital

communication, and why is it so important to distinguish between formal and informal writing situations? At its very root, written communication is rich in value. It can leave a permanent mark in society. Written words have been passed down, shaping generation after generation. Philosophers’ words, like Aristotle’s and Plato’s, may have been lost if not for the written word. It shaped cultures, and entire belief structures, like Christianity, are based on the power of the written word. So, it is imperative that students understand its worth, as well as the proper standards necessary for clear communication. Daniel Pfleging, a high school social studies teacher, makes sure to discuss appropriate classwork language with his students. “I clarify the situations when different types of speech are appropriate, from slang to text speech. I also make sure students know that the classroom is a place for formal English,” Pfleging said. Most students need to be reminded of what is expected in the classroom. School is a place to prepare for the future. If students develop the habit of using digital shorthand in any situation, they may run into problems in the business world later in life. Susan McMurry, a seventh grade language arts teacher, fears that students’ range of vocabulary will decrease if they consistently use digital shorthand in academic situations. “Students will not push themselves to increase the level of word choice if they result to informal language in all situations. Students need to value the importance of grammatical rules, as they will carry them far in the working and academic world,” she said. “Texting slang may lead to miscommunication,” said Steeves. “It is imperative to use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation in school and business situations. Not doing so can cause misunderstandings.” She believes that students will lack the

communication skills necessary to be successful in life if they do not learn to differentiate between times when digital shorthand is acceptable and when it should be avoided completely. “There are so many different forms of slang and text speak. How do students know if they are getting their message across to their audience?” Pfleging added. By using standard written English, we ensure that the majority of people will receive and understand our message with as little confusion as possible.” Steeves suggests utilizing the times when students use variations of digital shorthand in assignments as teaching moments. By taking the time to point out examples of improper language in assignments, students can learn that it is not appropriate to incorporate the same language used in a text message in schoolwork. Talley suggests giving students opportunities where it is appropriate to use digital shorthand to distinguish between formal and informal language usage. “Allow students to take notes, make note cards for research or write dialogue for a skit using digital slang. Repeat the message that there are times when this form of communication is appropriate. It will hopefully increase conscious decisions to use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling when it is required.” This redirects students to think about language. They can develop an appreciation for all types of communication if they see that their generations’ slang is understood as the creative form of expression it is. In order to uphold traditional written standards, teachers need to address this issue on a school-wide level. “Teachers need to be aware that others may allow digital shorthand in some assignments, while others have more strict expectations,” McMurry said. “A standard of acceptance needs to be set up among teachers at individual schools,

so students understand what is expected of them.” She believes that students will become better communicators if they consistently learn the appropriate time and place for formal language, as well as digital shorthand. Effective written communication is the key to success. Educators need to be aware of social factors that may prevent students from reaching their full potential in the classroom. For students to become efficient and clear communicators, they need to grasp the value of the proper written language. Ignoring the problem will not solve anything. Teachers need to be proactive in dealing with the growing forms of technology and digital communication.