Tag Archives: good writing

Why Can’t Our Students Write Well? Texting? – How About A Decline In Reading?

Photo illustration by Sergio Sanchez and Cody Richeson (for Eastfield Et Cetera)


R.I.P. English? Texting is giving proper grammar the proverbial ‘dirt-nap’ by Leslie Villeda.  I teach Speech at Eastfield College, one of the Dallas County Community College campuses.  This is the current cover story for our school newspaper.  Here are some excerpts:

OMG I cnt blieve ppl rly rite like diz. lol. Wats up wit dat??? SMH. 🙁

Millions of Americans communicate on a daily basis via text messaging, often using a cryptic new language filled with abbreviations and acronyms. And while technology has allowed people to communicate and stay in touch with friends and relatives, it may also be bringing about the downfall of the English language.

There was a time when kids went to school and were taught one simple rule about writing: You can’t break the rules until you’ve learned them. Unfortunately, the texters and grammar “rule breakers” are getting younger and younger these days. So young, in fact, that they are breaking the rules without giving themselves an opportunity to learn them.

This leaves no chance for learning actual English.

“As a writing teacher, I can tell you firsthand that it [texting] definitely is hampering the kids’ ability to spell, first and foremost,” said Keysha Smith, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Robert T. Hill Middle School in Dallas. “Number two, students don’t have a good grasp of grammar or a complete sentence because they don’t write in complete sentences. Sentence structure is out the window.”

There is also a problem with kids incorporating texting lingo into their academic writing.

I think the article raises a really important conversation.  But…  here’s what I think.  Is the proliferation of the shorthand used in texting a problem?  Is it contributing to a decline in writing skills – writing with proper grammar, proper structure?  Probably.  But it is not the main culprit.  The main culprit is a little simpler – and much more alarming.

People are not reading enough!

Children and students (up through college age), are developing a habit that is far more deadly to their communication skills than their texting is.  That habit is a lifestyle devoid of reading.  The time that earlier generations spent reading, this generation spends on video games, and a whole lot of texting.  The average child-through-teenager literally sends (and reads!) thousands of text messages a month.  Consider this from a Nielsen Co. study (read the summary here):

The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives a whopping 3,339 text messages a month, and adults’ use of text messaging is starting to climb — although to nowhere near the levels of American teens.

With so much time spent in texting, the average teenager simply is not exposed to actual, good, writing.

So here’s my theory.   We need to help our teenagers read more.  We need to get militant/obsessed/fanatical about making our students actually read — read well written material.  Daily.  Weekly.  Over the long haul.

You learn to write partly by exposing yourself to good writing – by reading good books by good authors.  Texting may contribute to bad writing habits, but it is only the current evasive activity.  Put lots of good books in the hands of students, and make sure they actually read the books – this is the need of the hour!


A personal note:  of course I think things were “better” when I was young (doesn’t everyone?).  No video games.  No texting.  Lots and lots of books.  In my own life I started with comic books, then went to the Hardy Boys, then Nero Wolfe, then Mickey Spillane, then “serious books.”  I read every Hardy Boys book, every Nero Wolfe book (still re-read these periodically), every Mickey Spillane book…  and now, I read every Malcolm Gladwell, book, and nearly every book by quite a few other authors (Michael Lewis comes to mind).

Do you read?  How did you learn to love reading?   I imagine that you learned to love to read by reading.  I know of no other path.

If the Reader Quits Reading, Blame the Writing!

Writing matters.  Good writing makes a difference.  Poor writing? – it simply does not get read.

All good writing has this one element in common – the writing entices you to keep reading.  Once it rambles, is dry, is boring, the reader is gone.

Will the reader read my next sentence? is the question to be asked about every sentence.

The ReWork guys are big on good writing.  They are really, really down on bad writing.  It’s in their book.  It’s in their own writing style.  And, now, Jason Fried has written:  Why Is Business Writing so Awful? for Inc.com.

He starts with this:

Nearly every company relies on the written word to woo customers. So why is most business writing so numbingly banal?

What’s bad, boring, and barely read all over? Business writing. If you could taste words, most corporate websites, brochures, and sales materials would remind you of stale, soggy rice cakes: nearly calorie free, devoid of nutrition, and completely unsatisfying.

Click on over, and keep reading.  It’s short – to the point – just like all of his writing.

And, yes, it will keep you reading until the end, and is worthy of your time.

What makes for good writing? — Curiosity and Interest are at the top

Here’s a good read from the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford about David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, and the new book about President ObamaThe Bridge.  Clifford’s article is entitled Making It Look Easy at The New Yorker, .  Here’s the quote that grabbed me:

“You have to be incredibly interested, and that’s not going to come along every five minutes.”

Here’s what Malcolm Gladwell says about Remnick:

He likes to pretend that there’s no sweat,” said Malcolm Gladwell, a New Yorker staff writer and an old colleague from The Washington Post. “He cruises around and chats with people and then disappears and writes thousands of words in 15 minutes. It’s all part of that ‘making it look easy’ thing.”

But here’s my takeaway:  when I read, I am curious, and have to be interested.  That means the author has to be curious, and write interesting stuff.  Curiosity…  interest…  these are real keys to good writing and good reading.