Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Languages for Digital Natives

Yesterday I wrote about the students' first comments on each others' blogs. What I didn't mention was that many of the comments were written following the conventions commonly used in chat rooms, text messages and instant messages, full of abbreviations and slang.

My first reaction was a desire to stamp it out. One of our intended purposes of this blogging project is to help the students improve their writing. We already hear the middle school teachers bemoaning the fact that they receive research reports that read like a chat message (e.g. Did u know tigers are *really* kool?)

My second reaction was an attempt to be more broad-minded. The intended audience of their comments uses and appreciates IM English-- some of them seem more comfortable reading it than reading standard English. Therefore, wasn't it most appropriate for them to use it when writing to that particular audience?

This morning, I spoke with Tammy about it this dilemma. She'd already had the same two reactions when she read their comments, and she'd already arrived at a decision. She told her class there was to be no more chat language-- standard English was expected in their posts and their comments.

The students were outraged! These were their comments! That was how they wrote! It was their language, their right to comment in that way!

Nope. Many of these kids are already multi-lingual, speaking one language at home, English at school, this other form of English when online. It is time to further broaden their skills and insist that in these blogs, whether they are posting or commenting, they are to craft their writing using the conventions of standard English.

Recognizing when to use the different forms of English, and being able to move smoothly between the different forms is all part of becoming an effective communicator. It will be interesting to see if they accept the challenge of developing this new voice, or if it diminishes their delight in commenting on blogs.

Initial signs are positive; the bloggers returned to the computer lab this afternoon and their work on their new posts was more intense than ever. I am amazed at what they are accomplishing each session. And we have signs that numerous kids are logging in from home to continue working on their drafts. A few have even gone in to better edit their already published posts. Voluntary editing in grade five? Amazing!