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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

July 16, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Does texting make teens better writers?


(Flickr / Creative Commons)

Today’s teens are tapping out more words to more people than any generation has before.

But does that make them better writers?

That depends in part on whether communications like texting and posting on Facebook can even count as writing, according to some of the more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers surveyed in the latest study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The teachers agreed overall that the ubiquity of digital tools like smartphones and social media sites help students with their creativity, their personal expression and their voice. A plurality said they make teaching writing easier.

But when it comes to longer, more involved writing — think essays and papers — some of the teachers worried that digital tools hurt student work. Teens have an audience on social media, which keeps them invested in what they post. But the brevity, simplicity and informality of what they post, the teachers said, can creep into their assignments.

For many of these teachers and the teens they teach, long school papers are “writing,” but social media posts and texts are not. As one teacher put it:

While texting is a form of communication, it is not ‘writing’ in my opinion, and because of texting, I think there are some serious issues that are surfacing more and more these days. A lot of students don’t know how to write a complete thought. They can’t use correct punctuation, and they don’t start sentences with capital letters. They are supposedly learning all this in class, but it is their outside communication that seems to predominate in their ability to communicate. There is a definite laziness happening with the students and writing.

It makes sense to draw a distinction between the quick communication of social media and the thoughtful analysis of longer papers. There’s a difference — most of the time — in what they set out to do.

But dismissing social media posts and texts as “not writing,” is this context or any other one, makes them seem like they’re worth less on a grander scale. I don’t think they are.

Teens today are growing up in a time when communication skills are more important than ever, and their ability to communicate a message — especially in quick bursts to broad audiences on social media — can go a long way to getting them reach, influence and success. Long writing has depth. Short writing has reach. The ability to communicate something well on an easily accessible medium is at least as important as the ability to lay out a long, formal argument.

Social media has taught me to write short, clear and with impact. Formal “writing” or not, for the next generation, that’s a critical skill.

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