dz NE1 care bout sp n gramA Ny mor?

Should grammar and spelling matter to us anymore?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the students at J.C. Booth Middle School in Peachtree City who created a web site that listed the school’s best-looking and popular kids as well as those they suspected of being gay.

A Booth student sent this note, which I appreciate for its passion and its decency. But I worry about its spelling and punctuation, which I suspect may be influenced by texting where information is reduced to its essence.

With kids now writing more than a thousand texts a month, texting has become a more familiar literary form to them than the essay. They may rewrite the rules for the rest of us.

Here is the message:

i am a student at the school where this happened. My friends were on these lists, I see the hatred from my peers day after day. When this site was made i wasnt suprised. i was just horrified someone would have the nerve to acctually make the site. Every student at my school new people who talked bad, but didnt think it would come to this. i hope the people responible understand the damage they have done to those listed. many didnt deserve the titles they were given.

–By Maureen Downey, AJC Get Schooled blog

41 comments Add your comment

Kelly

November 30th, 2010
4:09 am

so … i know you’re not saying we should allow children the approximate age of middle schoolers make the rules for our language. not to downplay the intelligence or abilities of young people, but they don’t, despite their claims to the contrary, know everything.

you do realise that as they get to high school (i’m a high school teacher) they start making use of predictive text so that their messages no longer result in massive arguments or repetitive “what?” texts because the meaning gets lost in the mess? this boils over into other writing, judging by the messages of 16-17 year olds my daughter was just communicating with on facebook, and the messages of students i see in my twitter stream. their “use of technology predates [their] competency of language” (love that expression – heard it from another teacher) and they do grow up and want to communicate with a wider spectrum than 11 year olds. they also grow to understand that we standardise language for a reason: because when everyone does it their own way the message gets lost.

sorry, obviously you hit a nerve, but i do get a wee bit tired of the number of people who think that adults no longer know anything and that whatever prepubescent kids are doing should be the “in” thing for *everyone.* while it is perfectly possible at this stage to believe that a future president of the united states may begin his state of the union address by posting a “s’up h8trs?” message to his constituents, the rest of the world (i live in nz) still expects people to progress past teenagehood into adulthood and communicate so that the message is clear and understandable (the first time!).

i would love to see studies, if there are any, of the texting language of youngsters who speak another (romance) language. since their written language is significantly more formal than english, i wonder if they, too, ponder a future of txtspk? in the meantime, don’t worry about having to learn txtshthd <–see? that could be misconstrued! they do want to learn what they call "proper english," and yes, we do teach it at high school. my distaste for capitals in informal communication aside :O)

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Nona

November 30th, 2010
7:51 am

Yes, spelling and grammar matter, because (1) despite what middle school and high school students believe, they WILL be judged on their abilities to use them correctly in their adult lives (”he/she is/isn’t well-educated”), just as generations before them have been; and (2) good use of grammar and spelling are important to communicate effectively. But as a veteran professional writer and an English teacher, I have to say that I’m a lot more concerned about students’ ability to think critically and to devise and process complex thoughts than to perfunctorily execute good prescriptive grammar and spelling. While I fully appreciate the miracles and inherent possibilities of modern technology, nothing is dumbing down our society more effectively or more exponentially than our contemporary culture of texting, Facebook, Twitter and emotional attachments to cell phones, iPads and gadgets. We’re watching the emergence of a generation that believes somebody is your “friend” if they call themselves your friend on Facebook, and that having 2,000 “friends” means you’re popular and well-liked, that “following” people — including celebrities — means you’re standing up and being counted, that the ability to communicate in 140 characters or less is a virtue, and that broadcasting what kind of sandwich you had for lunch or your latest video game score constitutes important events worthy of posterity. Yes, spelling and grammar are important. But I’d rather have a student write a composition exploring and expressing complex thoughts and problem-solving skills than a grammatically pristine, shallow exposition about “my new outfit” or “why my cell phone is cool.” Unfortunately, our schools insist on judging our students and teachers — and measuring their progress — by testing students on niceties like grammar and spelling rather than on critical skills like complex thinking and problem solving. Honestly, I think we ought to start promoting “cell phone-free days,” just as we once promoted the occasional “Great American Smoke-out.” We need to teach our kids that technological gadgets are tools, not partners with which to engage in emotional relationships, and that it’s NOT social suicide to hit the off switch once in a while and listen to the birds, listen to the silence, and engage in a relationship with yourself that involves development of original thoughts, long-term complex problem-solving, and the satisfaction of foregoing immediate gratification for the value of developing the spiritual, intellectual and emotional fruits of creativity and intellect — even if it means you might miss 200 Tweets and 350 texts. It’s a more-than-fair trade-off, but we have to teach that to our kids. So far, we’re failing at that, and it’s going to be a very expensive failure.

Enlightened Woman

November 30th, 2010
8:08 am

It’s interesting you brought this up. Recently, I had the opportunity to judge ninth and 10th grade literary entries for a local PTA Reflections contest (These students came from one of the “smart” schools in the county). I saw so many typos, misspelled words, subject/verb disagreements and words shortened as if they were texting. There were some sentences I had to read numerous times just to figure out what they were trying to convey.

I do think spelling and grammar still matters, but many kids don’t have to know basic grammar skills as things like spell check automatically corrects their mistakes.

V for Vendetta

November 30th, 2010
8:14 am

Kelly,

You said it well enough for me. I completely agree. The students who enter my high school are totally unprepared to write thoughtful and coherent essays. Many of them cannot identify complete sentences. It’s simply amazing how little we expect of them.

the prof

November 30th, 2010
8:15 am

Guess what…..they still try to pass this off, albeit to a lesser degree, in college as well!

You are a teacher?

November 30th, 2010
8:17 am

@kelly:

I seriously hope that you are just sleepy. Your post is riddled with errors. If you are really a high school English teacher maybe you should think about a career change.

high school teacher

November 30th, 2010
8:19 am

You can also thank the GPS and Learning Focused Schools for a lack of grammar competency. Teachers are frowned upon for rote grammar drills and isolated grammar lessons. We are told that we must integrate our curriculum standards. Teachers who focus solely on a grammar lesson are not following the researched based practices listed above. I recently heard a speaker at a workshop say that teachers who use worksheets should be shot.

What's best for kids?

November 30th, 2010
8:23 am

YES! Spelling and grammar are important. I am horrified every time I post something, and it happens to be incorrect. We should require grammar to be taught. It can’t be done in isolation. I think a class would be a beautiful thing to put into schools.
In reading the posts on this blog, many adults confues there, their, and they’re as well as your and you’re. It’s really not that hard. And if one is incapapble of doing it, God created grammar check for a reason.

What's best for kids?

November 30th, 2010
8:25 am

and it’s anyWAY, not anyways. Always singular. Every day and everyday also irritate me, along with could OF, would OF, and should OF. Kills me!

Angela

November 30th, 2010
8:27 am

Parents, if you allow your rugrats to use improper grammar and incorrect spelling when they are texting/emailing you, then that is on you. If you allow your rugrat to speak like a gangster thug or backwoods hillbilly, then that is on you.

We all know the status of American education system compared to the world. When will parents just step up and help improve their kids when the education system cannot or will not? Parents should not be allowed to complain if they aren’t going to help fix it.

This just adds salt to a sore spot with me. What the hell is wrong with our education system? In the 22 years since I have been out of school discipline has been considered politically incorrect, learning Geography is totally out the window (ask your middle school rugrat if they can locate Korea on a map), now grammar and spelling and headed downhill?

UGH.

mystery poster

November 30th, 2010
8:35 am

The same can be said for math. Just like grammar drills are out of favor, so are addition and multiplication drills.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I was buying something on sale for 50% off that was marked $3.99. It didn’t ring up and the clerk couldn’t figure out how much to charge me. She said, “$2.50, is that close enough?”

Egads.

fred

November 30th, 2010
8:39 am

The smarter kids will grow out of it and adjust and the rest will not. We may have to order our McDonalds like this” i can has chezbrgr plz, wif biggeee frys” but I doubt that we will be asking our high achievers for anything in textspeak.
Children have always had their own language, when I was growing up in the 80s it was an affected “valley” speak, but like , gag me with a spoooooon, there is now way I would ever like talk like that now,like ya know. I grew out of it and so willthe majority of the super texters of today. and in 20 years they will be the ones complaining about the youth of today and how they just dont respect their teachers/ elders/ grammar etc. At that point i will be able to sit back and and totally like laugh it up!

It Hurts

November 30th, 2010
8:41 am

I read e-mails and letters from the public every day. Here is the rub, I cannot tell if you just prefer a relaxed form of grammar/spelling or if you are uneducated.
Yes, I often look at the incorrect use of hear, here, there, their, no, know, too, two, to and think that the writer is lacking.
In a world where we will increasingly communicate in a written form, it is more important than ever that you can communicate correctly.

What's best for kids?

November 30th, 2010
8:44 am

I don’t think that adults care that much about grammar and spelling. I get emails that send me over the edge, and they are from “educated” people. It was that dang whole language nonsense. Reading the AJC is also a nightmare sometimes. Subject verb agreement problems abound in the headlines. Misspelled words, etc.
One of my students said to me that I am the only person on the PLANET who uses whom in a sentence. Apparently, she had never heard the objective case pronoun in her life.

CDW

November 30th, 2010
8:59 am

I would like to take a moment to thank my English teachers who taught me the difference between there and their, its and it’s, your and you’re, basic paragraph construction (shout out to Coach King, wherever you are), and a whole slew of other tools I’ve used in every job I’ve ever had. I didn’t enjoy your lessons then, but I appreciate them now.

mathamaniac

November 30th, 2010
9:00 am

The lack of using an -ly adverb appropriately in a written sentence stems directly from the spoken language today, especially on TV. So many -ly adverbs are omitted as modifiers of verbs in favor of the shortened adjective form. It is a seemingly minor point, but popular culture is dooming the correct use of the English language. L.A. teachers, did I use my adverbs correctly in my post?

Yet another teacher

November 30th, 2010
9:22 am

Oh, we teach grammar, and the students learn it long enough to pass tests. Then they forget most of the grammar rules because of how society now consistently reinforces their irrelevance. Texting and slang are bad enough, but now this lack of concern is spreading into sentence structure. My soul died a little when even the New York Times began routinely using comma splices. Several of my graduate student friends cannot properly punctuate or construct a sentence to save their lives. Heck, look at the majority of comments on this blog and elsewhere. (Maureen, I do appreciate your good grammar; it is so rare these days.) On several occasions, friends have told me that they don’t think spelling and grammar are important online because they’re just trying to speak their minds in an informal manner. I can accept that to an extent, but the more common that mindset becomes, the more it carries over to formal, offline arenas and becomes the new standard.

When students write poorly, teachers are always blamed for it … by people saying, “this writing is awful, don’t student’s learn english any more?!?” I desperately want good writing and spelling to stage a comeback, but I find more and more reasons to despair. If we want students to believe that grammar is important, then we have to act that way as well.

BlondeHoney

November 30th, 2010
10:27 am

In the business world, you cannot survive without decent writing skills, at least in my business. I frequently prepare presentations for VP’s and Senior VP’s and good writing and grammar is essential; I would not be in a senior manager position with the writing skills evidenced by the letter writer. In addition, I have disqualified numerous job seekers based on poor grammar and writing I see in resumes; today’s students need to wake up and pay attention to grammar and writing because their future success depends upon it.

Teacher, Too

November 30th, 2010
11:04 am

I teach grammar, although it’s more and more difficult in the public schools. I know that many private schools still teach grammar, even sentence diagramming! Some students will have strong grammar and writing skills, but they won’t likely be public school students.

Jordan Kohanim

November 30th, 2010
11:27 am

I was in lunch when I saw this and it warmed my heart. My 9th and 10th graders hate my spelling quizzes and sentence diagramming, but I refuse to give it up. (Of course, the parents love it).

That being said, we also must confront the importance of code-switching. It is essential we, as teachers, acknowledge there is an appropriate place for text speak. It is just not in a formal paper or letter to the editor. If language’s purpose is to communicate, and its power lies in how artfully it is used to convey a point, then your audience is the most important deciding factor in how you relay your ideas.

Batgirl

November 30th, 2010
1:14 pm

@Nona, you said it all.

@What’s best for kids?, I also hate could of, would of, etc. and was happy that the student in the story used would have instead of would of, although he/she did have a number of other errors.

Other pet peeves:
I, she and he used as object pronouns. “Bob bought a new car for he and I.”

I also hate the weird way some people use reflexive/intensive pronouns. I work part-time as a transcriptionist for a group of doctors and often hear sentences such as, “Please refer to the report dated 11/30/2010 dictated by myself” or “Mr. Smith’s daughter brought himself to the office.”

People who say, “I feel badly about that.” It’s “I feel bad about that.”

People who confuse less and fewer as in “Apple pie has less calories than chocolate pie.”

Thanks for letting me vent. I feel better now.

Booklover

November 30th, 2010
2:51 pm

In the ‘08-’09 school year, the high school where I teach insitituted a 9th grade writing and grammar class. We have block scheduling, so 1st semester EVERY freshman takes writing/grammar and then 2nd semester, every freshman takes 9th grade literature. Essentially, this means a double dose of language arts in the 9th grade, so you need administrative buy-in, but our principal understands the need for reinforcement.

The results? Last year, 40+ juniors failed the GHSWT (writing graduation test), but this year, only 21 juniors who had taken the 9th grade writing class failed the GHSWT.

I constantly reinforce grammar and spelling rules with my students, but I have several who, for example, cannot remember/be bothered to capitalize the word “I.” I do talk about code-switching and writing properly for the audience, but yes, we English teachers are fighting an up-hill battle.

Booklover

November 30th, 2010
3:04 pm

On a more personal note, when I was using online dating sites, I would routinely ignore error-riddled messages from interested suitors. “Heyyy, i hope u rite me back. I think u are realy hawt.” (And yes, these were men in their 20s and 30s.)

I received a number of messages that said something like: “You said you are an English teacher so I hope you’ll excuse any mistakes I made in my email.” I almost always wrote those gentlemen back. Yes, that’s a cliched pick-up line, but it also shows a respect for my chosen career and a consideration for my sensitivities–both important if you are trying to impress a potential date.

I sometimes use that experience as an example of why good grammar matters, and while some kids laugh, a light goes on with others. (I met my boyfriend on that site, and yes, he was eloquent in his emails just as he is self-possessed and considerate in person.)

Allan

November 30th, 2010
3:45 pm

I think grammar is important, tho i can remember reading reports showing that teaching it makes little difference.
Spelling also is important. Correct, unified spelling helps us read (tho not necessarily rite) mor quickly and easily.
But what is ‘correct’ spelling? At present ‘correct’ English spelling is a mess, and actually hinders the learning of literacy, as shown by interlingual studies.. As an artificial creation, it can be changed, upgraded, improved, like all other tools designed to achieve a particular purpos. .
We ar the people who can do this. We each can start slowly, as i hav here, by omitting some ’silent’ letters that serv no useful purpos.

InEd

November 30th, 2010
8:17 pm

A private high school in Montgomery, Alabama under the direction of Mrs. Alice Ortega, instituted a Freshman Composition class. The students have to write 5 perfect paragraphs. All work takes place in the classroom, not at home. Instruction is given daily about rules of grammar. Students write their paragraph and turn it in. Mrs. Ortega initially will mark the students’ errors. Then, the students make the correction(s) in a newly written paragraph, staple the two sheets together and hand them back in to her. With time, Mrs. Ortega no longer notes the errors, only that there is an error. The students, on their own, must find the error, make corrections, re-write the paragraph, staple it with the prior, and hand everything in. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? The results are that this small high school regularly produces National Merit scholars, and students who have scored perfect writing samples on the ACT. Funny thing is – when Mrs. Ortega sent her idea in to a professional literary magazine, they told her “it couldn’t be done.”

An American Patriot

November 30th, 2010
9:08 pm

WOW…….are we in trouble!!!!!!

Nona

November 30th, 2010
10:31 pm

While Mrs. Ortega’s efforts are well-intentioned and certainly have some merit, her results are the reflection of institutional buy-in to one of the biggest myths of teaching good writing: the unassailable virtue of the five-paragraph essay. Yes, it should be taught. Problem is, schools generally teach kids that it’s the ONLY way to write well. Research consistently shows that while the five-paragraph formula meets certain goals (not least of which is that it produces work that’s easy to grade because it lends itself to such objective criteria), it actually hinders critical thinking skills and rarely translates into really great writing. It forces students to conform to a formula — to write within a box — rather than to think, communicate and express on paper. Research demonstrates that argumentative essay that requires students to make a case and provide evidence, and reflective projects such as memoir, are much more effective tools for developing writing skills because they foster better critical thinking. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach the five-paragraph essay, but to set up that single formula as the gold standard for good writing does our students a grave disservice. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen a really great five-paragraph essay. I doubt Pat Conroy or Amy Tan could write a really great one.

Aiken Faque

December 1st, 2010
12:03 am

Publik education is the reason my korea never went any where.

Snicker!!!

Booklover

December 1st, 2010
11:18 am

Nona–
While I don’t think the Georgia writing graduation test is the best measure of a student’s writing ability, the prompt asks the student to write a persuasive essay with reasons and evidence. I agree with you that this type of persuasive essay, including logical argumentation, is a much better measure of cirtical thinking and writing ability.

The five paragraph essay, though, is a great tool for teaching writing in grades 5-9, or for beginning writers who lack organization and cohesion in their writing.

Nona

December 1st, 2010
1:30 pm

I agree with you, Booklover. The five-paragraph formula definitely has its place and should be taught, and the examples you cite of how/when are excellent. My concern is that (1) it’s very often touted as the ONLY way to write well, and (b) it really does not encourage complex critical thought, as research repeatedly shows. As I said earlier, I’d prefer a grammatically flawed, thoughtful, meaningful effort at writing to five grammatically perfect paragraphs of mind candy and drivel. But that’s strictly JMO. I respect anybody’s right to differ with me on that.

Ole Guy

December 1st, 2010
4:34 pm

Be it arithmetic (I will not elevate the current levels of metrics to the status of mathematics), grammer, critical thinking skills, etc, the initial problems started with the introduction of technology into the lives of kids who, in all respects, were not ready for such intervention. Shoving technology at kids, with the notion that their learning will somehow be enhanced is tantamount to shoving a shot of hooch at a drunk in the hopes that sobriety will soon follow.

Now that technology has become an engrained component of kids’ lives, can they be weaned from the influence of micro chips and “silly-cone diodes”? I rather think so…it’s just going to take more than a modicum of guts at all levels of the kids’ lives; quite frankly, I am not all that confident that this level of fortitude even exists, but one can always dream (I, you see, have the luxury of dreaming…DO YOU?).

Toto: exposing the false hope of technology

December 1st, 2010
9:59 pm

The introduction of any new technology creates what I like to call “the parabola effect”. When first introduced, technology gives its owners a perceived edge over others- you can work faster, easier, cheaper, etc. than your competition. This advantage initially increases as one’s proficiency in the new medium increases while those without the technology lag further behind. As the price of technology drops, those on the sidelines can buy in and gradually become competitive with you. Your initial advantage reaches its maximum and then steadily declines-just like the parabola. At this new state, no one has an advantage, yet all are now slave to the former “new” technology. Technology, in the end, is really digital slavery. Those who have slaves do their work never learn to
work. Students who use calculators at an early age are less likely to learn their math facts. Students who constantly text have less use for grammar and spelling. Eventually, this society’s foundation becomes sand. Its founding documents, such as our Constitution, lose power because it is based on correct interpretation of the written word and the law of grammar.

Ole Guy

December 2nd, 2010
8:24 am

Well-expressed, Toto…BRAVO!

really

December 2nd, 2010
10:28 am

bravo, nona!!! i have printed your posts and am sharing them with my fellow teachers. we have many debates on the importance of spelling/grammar, and your posts are a perfectly and clearly expressed explanation of why we cannot give up the fight!

(side note: i have refused a few dates in my life because the male suitor could not spell! it seems shallow, but there are some things i cannot overlook.)

Nona

December 2nd, 2010
4:20 pm

@ really:

WOW! Thank you for the ultimate compliment of sharing my thoughts with other teachers! YOU MADE MY DAY!!!

InEd

December 2nd, 2010
7:42 pm

@Nona
I re-read my post and I can see why you thought I was talking about a five paragraph paper. I wasn’t. Each paragraph is submitted individually and is not related to a prior submission. It’s a very simple method for students to practice grammar lessons, receive feedback and fix their mistakes.

You’re correct about the five paragraph formula being too “canned.” Writing submissions for the ACT are not the diving rod we thought they’d be to separate a good candidate from a great one for college admissions.

It’s hard to teach good writing skills the most effective way which is providing feedback for students’ work. Currently, I’m working with students who are very fragile learners and it’s the fact they intensely dislike reading that is a mammoth challenge to overcome.

P.S. Nona, I sent your response to Mrs. Ortega. I’m sure we’ll be hearing something from her. At the high school in Montgomery – she’ll be in that same building 40 years at the close of this school year. What a woman, and what a great teacher she is!

InEd

December 2nd, 2010
7:43 pm

“diving rod” s/b “divining rod” – oopsie

Nona

December 3rd, 2010
12:55 am

@ InEd

Thanks for your clarification! I really appreciate the more detailed explanation and look forward to Mrs. Ortega’s response. Awesome teachers like her are tragically underappreciated heroes.

rugrats characters | TrendyTwits

December 3rd, 2010
7:49 am

[...] dz NE1 care bout sp n gramA Ny mor?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Parents, if you allow your rugrats to use improper grammar and incorrect spelling when they are texting/emailing you, then that is on you. … [...]

InEd

December 3rd, 2010
1:59 pm

@Nona – here is what Mrs. Ortega wrote back to me via email:
You might let Nona know that my class is just the beginning of our writing program; it’s the “baby step.” Fortunately it is very effective, even with those who do not read for pleasure; it’s immensely effective with those who are avid readers and have something to use for patterns.

The second step is in the sophomore year when the student moves on to the 3-5 paragraph essay. Then in the junior year the students have a mini-research paper. The senior year has the full research paper. But it all goes back to that 9th grade year when the student masters the single paragraph. Without that, no essay is possible