Anders K. Ericsson · Graeme Paton · Richard Alleyne · Texting · writing by hand

‘Txtin iz messin, mi headn’me englis…’*

There were two stories which caught my eye yesterday in the Telegraph. The first, by Graeme Paton, looks into some research by academics at Coventry University suggesting that texting can improve children’s literacy.
This comes as no surprise to me! In order to be able to text successfully, you have to be able to segment words into sounds or groups of sounds and represent them symbolically. Thus ‘CU L8R’, for ‘See you later’. So, in theory, if you can text, you can write in such a way that would enable a person reading what you’ve written to make sense of it. That doesn’t, of course, mean that the words are necessarily spelt correctly because, in conventional orthography, not only do you have to be able to separate words into sounds and represent those sounds, but you also have to know how to spell the sounds conventionally.
That isn’t to say that the genre of texting is acceptable in all circumstances. The language of text, like the language of poetry or of any other genre, is appropriate to its context – texting – which is why, when teachers see the genre being employed in, say, essay writing they tend to blame the genre and not its inappropriate use.
The other story by Richard Alleyne, the Telegraph’s Science Correspondent, reports that ‘children who write by hand learn better than those who type’. The claim, made by Professor Anne Mangen from the University of Stavanger in Norway, suggests that because writing takes longer, the temporal aspect may have a positive influence on learning. It also highlights the importance of repetition and the way in which it can change the structure of the brain.
This further supports the work by K. Anders Ericsson et al, whose book The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Behaviour has in the last few years begun to exercise such a powerful influence on teaching and learning.
* The headline is taken from the first line of the world’s first text message poetry competition run by the Guardian and won by Hetty Hughes in 2001. The poem runs:
txtin iz messin,
mi headn’me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
& she’s African