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.

texts-k

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!


Grammar, A Debate We Will Have Forever

All summer I have been writing in some capacity. I will be the first to admit, I struggle with grammar from time to time, but who doesn’t?  Grammar has been a perplexing issue for language arts/English teachers for year and years.  Some teachers may argue for a constant drill and kill approach, thinking the more that students do it, the better they will get at grammar.  Other educators let their student’s writing do the talking and examine where their weakness lie in their writing, then they plan and teach accordingly. A balance of both approaches is also used in classrooms.  Despite how you or your district take on the daunting task of hoping your students “get it”, I am here to tell you I don’t believe there is a magic spell out there for the proverbial lightbulb to click on instantly.

My lightbulb burns, at best, about as bright as lamp.  Experts are argue time and time again that we as the writing teachers aren’t doing our job and students are falling further and further behind. Of course, these “experts” are examining standardized test scores as part of their conclusion, and I am not even going to go down that road.  In addition, others believe the use of cell phone and social media is causing students to fall further and further behind because of their “text talk”.  Read this post in Education Week and let me know and others what you think.  I was outraged when I finished reading the post as were others that I have professional relationships with.  It is one more way to blame technology for shortcomings on standardized testing.  Articles such as this gives educators and districts more reason not to embrace technology.  It is bad enough students aren’t getting more of a 21st century education and aren’t connected the way they should be.  I am not saying technology is going to fix the grammar issues that seem to plaque our students.

What I want to say is I can remember all the way back to 8th grade when I had my orange grammar handbook. As a middle schooler, I was clueless from time to time when it came to things such as misplaced modifiers or using a semi-colon correctly.  There were concepts I understood and there were some I did not fully grasp.  I can also remember there were classmates that were way better at grammar than I was.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, the same thing we see with our students today.  Are there better approaches to teaching grammar? My goodness gracious, yes!  I encourage everyone to check out Jeff Anderson’s approach to grammar in his book Mechanically Inclined. I particularly like his express lane checkout approach to the writing his students do in Journals.  There are other methods available too.  Needless to say, our students aren’t going to be grammar experts by a long shot.  Yes, they should be achieving at a certain level, but grammar takes years and years to master in my opinion.  It isn’t going to happen over night and we need to stop whipping a horse that really hasn’t changed much over the years.  Every year I am looking for new ways to engage my students with grammar as should anyone else.  Some ideas work better than others, you just need to find what works for you and your class.  Furthermore, being a writing teacher, means we need to write with our students and only then will our students start taking more of a vested interest in their writing and then maybe they will start listening to those grammar lessons we give.

Cheers!