Social Media Makes Students Terrible Writers

Or at least that’s the unsubstantiated claim put forth in a recent US News & World Report article. According to Terry Wood of St. Mary’s Ryken (MD), there has been a “dramatic decline” in the writing abilities of her students “due to Tweeting, Facebook, and texting.”

 

What strikes me as unfortunate, if not irresponsible, about this statement is the causal link Ms. Wood draws between social media and a decline in writing abilities (See: Correlation does not imply causation). Using only anecdotal evidence, she states (as fact) that social media is making our students terrible writers.

 

Stepping back from that logical fallacy though, I tend to agree that some (if not most) students struggle to determine when to use formal versus informal speech; however, I do not think this is a new phenomenon.

 

In fact, the article, titled How Slang Affects Students in the Classroom, could easily have been written at other points throughout history. It hardly seems surprising that both students and teachers have discussed this for decades, if not centuries. Here is one example of a debate in the University Missourian newspaper from 1913: According to one professor in the article, “Slang is all right in spoken language, but not in written. A certain amount of slang keeps one from being too academic.”

 

Another example from 1924 the Daily Illini discusses a professor’s new book on the use of slang. In his book, Professor H.G. Paul reminds his students, “The desire for [slang as novelty of words] is not in itself bad. Teachers must direct such desires in the proper channels by presenting good examples and fostering a pride in language.”

 

So many decades ago, students obviously had no conception of social media or texting, yet clearly similar issues arose.

 

Is it possible that the issue is more prevalent or “worse” today? Perhaps— but rather than bemoan the technology that facilitates the use of slang, I urge educators to consider new teaching techniques that clearly delineate the parameters of formal language usage.

 

For example, allow students opportunities to engage academically both formally and informally (say through the use of Twitter or texting).  Or, in Dr. Paul’s timeless words, “direct such desires in the proper channels.”

Lucas Ames

Lucas Ames

Instructional Designer at Global Online Academy (GOA)

Lucas is an instructional designer at Global Online Academy where he works with teachers to move their courses into blended and online environments. He is formerly the History and Social Sciences Department Chair at Flint Hill School in Oakton, VA. He has also taught at the Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville, VA. Lucas blogs at Entrepreneurial Teaching on how teachers can harness innovative skills to be successful in the classroom.

http://www.entrepreneurialteaching.com/

  • Oh, those Missourians are so wise! I agree, Lucas. Engage the students through these mediums, and teach the students a sense pride in proper langauage by encouraging/showing the students the best examples.

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  • Niadinh

    So really it’s an issue of teaching practices not staying up to date with the technology and platforms available and beingu00a0utilizedu00a0by the student population. It comes down to education, not of the students, but of the teachers. Social media education and training, such asu00a0http://www.socialmediaeducationgroup.com/u00a0would probably be of value in such situations, and certainlyu00a0givingu00a0students theu00a0opportunityu00a0to use and thereforeu00a0developu00a0informal language as well as formal language skills would be a good strategy.n

  • The Stanford Study of Writing found the opposite – students are writing much more now, and this is a good thing: u00a0http://ssw.stanford.edu/nnAnd that, I think, is what is important. u00a0Write more, even if it ‘exposes’ poor writing. u00a0It gives students more practice and opportunities to improve their skills. u00a0The alternative is to not encourage students to write much and hide the fact that most students are not proficient in their writing (nor reading, math, science, history, geography, etc. if you look at NAEP scores and the like).

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