Texting Culture in Middle School

Hyler & Hicks cover

Less then a year ago my co-author Troy Hicks and I released our second book From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age. Since that time, I have been continuing to engage my students in new ways to think about grammar in the spaces where they write. This year has been very eye-opening to me and my students are showing me that their writing worlds are evolving every day.

As we were discussing adverbs two weeks ago, my students were completing lessons on Grammarflip while preparing to complete their grammar templates with their groups. During the discussion, we started talking about texting and I mentioned how last year’s students would get frustrated when they would text their peers and be frustrated when the letter “k” was sent back representing the work “okay”. That opened the floodgates for our conversation. As their teacher, I not only learned from my students, they allowed me into their world where they communicate regularly.

One of the most interesting things that my students brought to my attention was how texting was done more through the Snapchat app then just simply texting someone using the texting feature on their phone. When I asked why they did this, the replies suggested they enjoyed using pictures and the emoji features that Snapchat allowed. It didn’t mean they didn’t use the standard texting on their phone, but it did mean that it is used less than when I have talked to previous year’s students.

More surprising to me was most of my students know proper grammar. Yes, you read that right. Most of my students do know proper grammar! My students proceeded to tell me that they use proper grammar in their text messaging when they need to use it. Okay, so when is that? Proper grammar is used by my students it seems when they are either upset with the person they are texting or they are trying to make a point. Using proper grammar lets the other person know they are serious and they are not pleased. I sat there for a minute trying to wrap my head around this concept  my students were instituting in their daily communication to their peers.

As I thought more about this, it still goes back to this idea of formal -vs- informal writing. It is evident to me that my students are using informal writing when communicating with their peers. However, when it is time to take things seriously and the conversation becomes more important, they formal guidelines are kicking in for my students. They are continuing to learn and evolve the skills they need to help them in their writing spaces.


Texting is a Language with Rules

Yesterday two phenomenal events occurred. First, as many know, the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks with a foreword written by Liz Kolb was released yesterday. The out-pouring of support has been great. It feels awesome to finally have it out there where the world will be able to read our work.

Just when I thought I couldn’t have a better day yesterday, I had the most amazing conversation with my 8th graders about formal -vs- informal writing and texting. Our conversation started with the grammar template that is mentioned in our book. Below is a screenshot of that template with a link.

The students had a solid grasp on compound sentences as we reviewed them. When we talked about the texting portion of the template the conversation heated up! The class decided texting would be an informal space due to the simple fact that an abundance of their text messages are to their friends. As we broke down our mentor sentence from The Giverstudents worked with partners to determine what the sentence would look like as a text message to a friend. That is when the nerdy teacher in me became fascinated. The students talked specifically about “Digital Talk” such as “Lol” -vs- “LeL” and “okay” -vs- “ok” or just “k”. I was super excited to hear them debate their language through texting.

I learned that students actually feel they know the tone of a text message that is being sent to them. For example, if someone just sends the letter “k” for “okay”, students automatically assume the person who sent them the text is upset with them. Now, I have had several conversations with students, teachers, parents, and other adults about how tone is hard to determine through writing a text message unless an emoji is attached or there are certain colorful words that are added. However, my students wholeheartedly believe that by not making the effort to type even one more letter for “Ok”, the person on the other end of the message is not happy.

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Picture Courtesy of http://www.keywordsuggests.com

 As my 8th graders continued to talk and discuss their language, my smile became bigger as one of my students raised their hand and stated, “There are rules for how we text message back and forth with each other. It’s like we have our own language.” At this point I wanted shout out and say YES!

I contained my excitement and asked, “Does everyone know the rules?” It was agreed by most, if not all, that not everyone knows the rules that must be followed for texting. I found this rather interesting, so I probed deeper by asking, “Are all of the rules already established or are there more made up as time goes on?” I received many responses, but the ultimate conclusion I came to was there are new rules added as certain situations render new ones to be created.

Students continued to express their thoughts and opinions as we plunged forward with creating an effective text message for our mentor sentence but the fact remains ladies and gentleman; students have their own language and we can not take this away from them. Instead, we need to dive deeper into their world and figure out how our students function in all of their writing spaces. It was a magical day to hear my 8th graders talk about the way they write with tone, audience, language, etc. I am still processing our conversation and I am positive there is more to learn. It is such an interesting topic to keep thinking about. More soon!


From Texting to Teaching

Hyler & Hicks cover Today I am both humbled and excited. Tomorrow my second co-authored book, from texting to teaching: grammar instruction in a digital age (Yes, I know the title is not capitalized, that was intentional) will be released to the world. Troy Hicks again, was my co-author and it was an interesting journey to write this book and bring it to educators.

Though I could never put myself in the same category with grammar greats like Jeff Anderson and Constance Weaver or even be published by giants like Heinemann or Corwin Press (No disrespect). Quite frankly, I am content where I am at with the work I have done. On the other hand, Troy and I have created a resource where teachers and educators can see some benefit to this book. Not only will educators see the historical struggle of how grammar has been taught, but also that the challenges teachers may face with technology today don’t really have to be challenges. Those challenges can be turned into opportunities for teachers to help their students see the difference between formal and informal writing spaces. Furthermore, students will have a greater appreciation for grammar when we use their spaces and work with them in the worlds they live in day to day.

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(Image Courtesy of Ohio University Linguistics)

Grammar instruction will always be challenging and I am positive that others will develop new and exciting ways to reach the students they come in contact with every day.

It was a pleasure and challenge to not only write this book, but to write it with someone who has become one of my closest friends and colleagues. Troy continues to challenge me both intellectually and personally in ways that make me a better educator and person.

So, without further delay, we give you our book and hope you find some helpful information to improve your students understanding of grammar. Please let us know how we can further help you and please visit our companion site with the book.