Saturday 21 April 2018

Spelling it out: all that text messaging is good for you

John Walshe Education Editor

NEW research about the use of text messages is enough to make you LOL (laugh out loud). It claims that children who are frequent users of text abbreviations -- such as plz for please -- are unlikely to be problem spellers or readers.

The study, funded by the British Academy and carried out by Dr Clare Wood from Coventry University, says the level of "textism" used may even predict reading ability in pupils.

Dr Wood looked for evidence of a link between text-abbreviation use and literacy skills after reports in the media had suggested that texting could damage the literacy and spelling abilities of children.

She said: "We were surprised to learn that not only was the association (between texting and literacy) strong, but that textism use was actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skills in children.

"Texting also appears to be a valuable form of contact with written English for many children as it enables them to practice reading and spelling on a daily basis."

However, Irish experts are sceptical of some of the claims made in the study.

The State Examinations Commission claims texting, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, poses a threat to traditional writing conventions.

But this problem is not exclusively Irish, said Brendan Culligan, a lecturer in English curriculum studies at Colaiste Mhuire of the Marino Institute of Education in Dublin.

"Some see and welcome texting for what it is -- an evolving language, a short way to give meaning, a wonderful way to have 'disengaged' students reading and writing more," he said. "Others see it as becoming a problem, with serious implications for conventional writing."

According to Mr Culligan, there is a consensus that texting damages a child's spelling ability, but there is no reason to believe that this is so.

"Without adequate research, there is little or no evidence to demonstrate that this perception is a reality."

He said that for children who have a strong foundation in grammar, punctuation and spelling, texting is merely non-conformity to written language, rather than incompetence.

"These children are able to distinguish textisms from conventional writing and can switch easily between both codes."

However, he warned that weak spellers were at risk.

"My chief concern is for those children who struggle with the various aspects of conventional writing. For those children who struggle with spelling, research is needed to determine if texting prevents them from moving along the continuum of spelling development.

"Texting is here to stay and we must find ways of accommodating and using it wisely.

"The vast majority of texters know they are engaged in the use of non-standard spelling. Whether they know the correct spelling of the word in question is another question."

He added: "Texting does motivate some children to 'write', so rather than trying to prohibit its use in classrooms, it should be used positively."

Irish Independent

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