Does Texting make Children’s Spelling and Reading Worse?
Despite popular theory that the use of ‘textese’ (e.g., ‘gr8’ for ‘great’ or ‘2nite’ for ‘tonight’) is creating a generation of poor spellers, recent research evidence actually suggests that texting can actually improve children’s spelling and reading skills.
In order to learn creative abbreviation strategies, you need a good understanding of how sounds and letters are put together. For example, when you replace or remove sounds, letters or syllables such as in ‘hmrk’, this requires an understanding of how the original word should sound, and what it should look like (homework).
Hence, texting actually appears to be improving students’ spelling because it increases the use of these important phonological skills.
Research also indicates that more frequent use of text messaging is associated with greater reading comprehension. This makes sense because due to the personal and social nature of texts people are likely to put more effort into understanding what they mean.
If you Google ‘texting and spelling’, you’ll come across plenty of news articles that appear to be reporting a trend whereby increasing access to technology is decreasing children’s literacy skills. The important thing to keep in mind is that it’s only a correlation, and, while people are keen to solve the problem of declining literacy, blaming technology is possibly too simplistic.
Dr Clare Wood, who specialises in researching the impact of technology on education suggests that children’s literacy appears to be declining in spite of texting, not because of it.
In contrast, there is evidence that children who spend a lot of time engaged in sustained mobile phone use may work quickly on cognitive tasks, but they actually make a lot of mistakes.
Although we think that we can get more done if we divide our attention, we are not necessarily being any more efficient. When we switch back and forth between tasks, the neural pathways in the brain take a small break, which actually ends up making a task more time consuming than it would be if we just did one thing at a time.
In summary, texting can be a good way of encouraging children to practise spelling and writing skills, but it should be time-limited, and they should be encouraged to follow principles of ‘one thing at a time’.
- Hofferth, S. L., & Moon, U. J. (2012). Cell phone use and child and adolescent reading proficiency. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(2), 108-122. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0027880
- Kemp, N., & Bushnell, C. (2011). Children’s text messaging: Abbreviations, input methods and links with literacy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(1), 18-27. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00400.x
- Redmayne, M., Smith, E., Abramson, M.J., 2013, The relationship between adolescents’ well-being and their wireless phone use: a cross-sectional study, Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source [P], vol 12, issue 90, BioMed Central, United Kingdom, pp. 1-22.
- Wood, C., Jackson, E., Hart, L., Plester, B. and Wilde, L. (2011), The effect of text messaging on 9- and 10-year-old children’s reading, spelling and phonological processing skills. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27: 28–36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00398.x