The “whr r u?, b 15 min l8, Bff, cul” generation writes in a code that is largely not understood by the non-technologically inclined. The explosion of codes that have been universally accepted by the avid social media communicator have essentially become their own language, albeit a still evolving one. Webopedia has a comprehensive list of such short-forms, and the number of them is quite staggering.
The problem with the every popular texting, Twittering, MSNing, and Facebooking culture is the lack of cultivation of serious, formal writing skills. It’s becoming more and more difficult to argue that the social media generation(s) is not less skilled than the non-computer junkie generation(s)! Many members of the younger generation often do have a more varied skill set that involves technological and social networking skills, but their writing skills are not equal to those who were educated without the influence of computer technology. English language reading and writing skills are arguably more important than technology skills, because if you cannot express yourself effectively, your message will be lost. As well, if you cannot carefully construct your message with precise language, you will not be taken seriously by your reader.
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The social tech junkies spend more time writing quick, abbreviated messages than they do constructing meaningful, organized longer writing pieces. Outside of school, it is rare to see young people handwriting a letter or keeping a daily journal. These activities were popular prior to the explosion of technology and social media. Now the most detailed writing done by the average young person is email! It’s no wonder that teachers are seeing these poor writing habits in the classroom, and the students – more often than not – don’t realize there’s anything wrong with including these abbreviations in their formal writing.
What does this mean for the English language classroom?
It should be expected that more students are ‘behind’ in their writing skills as they generally spend very little time writing formally – using proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Meet the students where they are at in their writing skills and attempt to bring them along. Teaching above their current skills will only further delay their improvement. Telling your students that they are not ‘as smart’ as what students used to be will produce zero results as well! Most importantly, the students must understand the difference between writing using short-forms and writing using formal language. They are capable of learning the difference!
The modern language student is on a longer curve of learning than used to be. Realize this and move on to teaching these most important formal writing skills.
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