Different Ways to Express Oneself

Quick question — what percent of teens do you think write just for the heck of it (not because they “have to” for school)?

Answer: A whopping 93% of teens say they write “for their own pleasure” according to a recent report by Pew Internet and American Life. That number astounded me. Given that 25% of adults haven’t even read a book in the past year, I would have guessed that the number of teens writing — creating their own texts — would have been a lot lower. It’s a reason to celebrate, IMO.

And what makes this finding even more astounding is that teens do NOT consider IMs, texts, and posting comments on social networking sites as “real writing.” So there. Teens are actually putting pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and laying out their thoughts. And, as Richard Sterling, director of the National Writing Project stated in a news article: “When teens are given a chance to write extensively, their writing improves dramatically

The downside is that sometimes the lines between electronic writing and schoolwork do blur. Over half (2/3 even) of teens say they use some form of electronic communication shorthand in their academic assignments, such as improper caps, shortcuts (ex: I used IMO above), and emoticons.

As a college instructor myself, I do not appreciate the use of the first two shorthands in my students’ work. It is important that they know proper usage of capitalization and punctuation. As for the latter — the use of emoticons — I am a little less apprehensive. It’s very difficult to convey the emotion one is feeling in a writing assignment. And let’s face it, we aren’t all going to be remembered as literary greats. So why not sneak it a smiley or frown-face so that the reader is assured of the intent of tone? In fact, I use emoticons when I grade papers to let the student know how I am feeling; maybe that is why I defend the practice ;-).

I like this study. It shows that teens enjoy writing, especially when they can use their writing to help express themselves and address things they care about. It’s a glimmer of optimism among news that too often reports on the demise of teen character and the failure of our educational system.



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