Our digital natives, those born late enough to have computers and cell phones at their disposal while still in diapers, are finally developing their language skills. I have been worried about this since AOL messaging first appeared, followed quickly by texting. Kids engaging in this type of instant communication learned how to use a new type of short-hand so they could pay less per message, and write more quickly. This occurred at the same time that I noticed a sharp decline in their command of the English language. Like many educators, I blamed the new technology. At my school we fought back by instituting new spelling and writing programs with some success. However, pushing against the coolness of incorrect spelling was overall a losing battle. Enter social networking. Just when I thought there was no turning back, we got MySpace and then Facebook. By the time you receive this message, there will probably be something else taking its place. When MySpace first appeared, it was mostly the young who were participating. But now, many of my friends - and even my parents' friends - are getting into the act on Facebook. At first my children and others from their generation were horrified that their grandparents were interacting with them. I had a personal policy not to allow my students to be my friends. But then, I moved a thousand miles away, and my former students started friending me. I thought it was so sweet that they wanted to keep in touch. It would be awkward for them to pick up the phone, or even to email. But social networking is just right. What I have been noticing over the last couple of months is that their spelling and grammar is starting to improve. It is not perfect, and I wouldn't expect that on this medium, but it is really improving. I am not sure if it is because the technology is easier to use, or if it is because most of them have parents and teachers reading their posts, but they suddenly seem to care just a little bit more about what they are writing. Reluctantly, I am becoming a fan of our brave new world, and all of the potential it offers our kids to use their English skills.
Janine Walker Caffrey writes about reading, education and a few other topics related to happiness and life in general.