We currently live in a technological age in which we are constantly bombarded with media and communication. Everyone is emailing, texting, tweeting, blogging and “Facebooking” – from young children to seniors. Grandparents are checking email and trying to keep up with new technology and children are growing up not knowing a world without cell phones, iPads, laptops and digital media of all kinds. Life truly has changed! Gone are the VCR-illiterate days of my Mom and my Mother-in-Law – now they both email and text me on a daily basis! The fact that my 7 year old and 8 year old kids figured out how to instant message each other using their Nintendo DS’s still boggles my mind!
So what does this mean for teachers? How do we teach a generation that is being raised on digital media and electronic gadgets? From my earlier posts, you can learn about a variety of Web 2.0 tools that can be used in the classroom to cater to this generation. However, one question remains – has the importance of teaching spelling and grammar diminished and/or become irrelevant for this generation? Why bother teaching spelling when all devices now have spell-check and autocorrect? Does anyone even type out full words anymore or is it all shorthand and acronym-based? I mean, really, when was the last time you actually spelled out “laughing out loud” or “oh my gosh”? As well, all major word processing software has grammar checking tools and a thesaurus. Will teaching the basics of handwriting, spelling and grammar become a thing of the past?
My opinion regarding this is mixed. I believe that with the continued use of text-based media, the importance of grammar has actually increased even more. If our students will be relying on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, emailing and texting to communicate, their written words had better make sense! The art of writing is definitely being used much more now than ever and it is imperative that our students be able to communicate their thoughts in a logical, sensible way – for which proper grammar is essential and therefore must be taught explicitly and reinforced constantly.
The second part of this question involves spelling and I am conflicted with this part. As the reigning spelling bee champion of my elementary grades, I am a stickler for spelling and I cannot stand when people email/tweet/post messages with spelling errors – it drives me crazy. My “old-school” heart holds correct spelling as an important skill, however my 21st Century realization is that spell-check is a definite reality and when its everywhere, why not use it? Spelling is a very important skill and it comes easily to me, however if assistance is available, then why force students to endure repeated, rote learning of spelling words? It does drive me crazy when my high school students have atrocious spelling, but they do rely heavily on the crutch of spell-check – does this mean that their ideas are not valid? The way I think of this is – no matter how hard I try, I cannot properly parallel park my car. I learned how to do it years ago, but I still find it impossible, so much so that I will park blocks away from my destination even though there is a spot closer due to the fact that I am unable to properly parallel park in it. When the day comes that “park assist” is available in all cars, it will definitely be my crutch and I will depend on it the way many people depend on spell-check.
That said, I do believe that spelling must still be taught in school, especially in the formative elementary and junior grades, but emphasis should be on recognizing how a word should “look” and long-term spelling strategies as opposed to short-term memorization of specific words for a spelling test. I have personally seen this shift with my childrens’ education. In Grade 1, my son had spelling words to memorize, practice at home and a spelling test at the end of each week. In Grade 2, there was a shift to “weekly word wall words” that were used repeatedly throughout the week and the children were encouraged to spell them correctly and taught strategies for correct spelling, but pure memorization was actually discouraged.
The last skill that is related to this topic is that of handwriting. This one baffles me since, again, “old-school” me believes that neat, legible hand writing is an essential skill, however as we migrate to text-based media that involves typing, why emphasize handwriting at all? Let’s be honest, its faster to type a memo on your cell phone than to find a pen and paper and write out a reminder! The subject of handwriting was debated in an online forum of one of my teaching courses, and someone mentioned that you still need to write things down like phone numbers, appointments and items for your grocery list. Now I don’t know about you, but I always have my iPhone with me and contact info, appointments and even my grocery list all get typed straight into it. Pen and paper are an inconvenience! However, as a Chemistry teacher, I must say that when writing out mathematical solutions to chemistry problems, pencil and paper only! So, while we have shifted to a typing society, it is still important to teach the basic skills of handwriting since it is still a major factor in our written communication.
In summary, I feel that grammar is still as important as ever and should definitely be explicitly taught and enforced to all students. Spelling and handwriting are also important, but the heavy “old-school” focus that used to be on these skills is a subject for debate and I feel that, while they should be taught and reinforced at all levels, students should not be limited in their communication of ideas due to some errors in spelling or illegible handwriting. Just my opinion – would love to hear yours!