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april28homespunweb.jpgBy Etan Horowitz

RISMEDIA, April 28, 2008-(MCT)-OMG, did u C the report about txting and skool? No, wuz up? Here’s the 411: A study released Thursday confirmed what teachers, parents and academics have long suspected: All that instant messaging and texting teenagers do is creeping into schoolwork. In fact, 64% of youngsters ages 12 to 17 have used emoticons, text shortcuts and informal language in school assignments, the survey found.

But as the teens in the imagined conversation above might say, it’s really NBD: no big deal.

“This is not a worrying issue at all,” said Richard Sterling, chair of the advisory board for the National Commission on Writing. “The most important thing about writing is to teach audience and purpose. When this shows up in writing, it’s a teachable moment that you can use to explain that, while in certain contexts this may be allowable, in others, it’s not.”

The majority of teens surveyed also said that they didn’t consider electronic communications “writing” and that they think that good writing skills are important for success later in life.

The study, called “Writing, Technology and Teens,” was a joint effort between the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the College Board’s National Commission on Writing.

Researchers surveyed 700 teens and their parents to find out what effects IMing, texting, writing blogs and keeping an active MySpace or Facebook profile have on writing-in school and out of school.

As one might expect, teens who blog and are active on social-networking sites are more likely to use text shortcuts in formal writing than those who don’t. So are teen cell-phone owners.

“It happens,” said Amber Pandohie, 18, as she stood outside Edgewater High School on Thursday afternoon. “Usually you catch it when you read it over, but sometimes you turn it in and you get a bad grade.”

Ryan Hallinan, 16, a sophomore at Edgewater, said when he slipped up and handed in an essay in January with “u” instead of “you,” his teacher did more than just correct it.

“She circled the U and wrote, `Write out the word and stop texting,'” Hallinan said as he stood outside Edgewater clutching a silver Motorola cell phone.

Although cell-phone text messaging has only taken off with U.S. teens in the past few years, teachers have been noticing the same kinds of shortcuts in writing for years. That’s because when sending instant messaging on programs such as AIM, teens use the same informal tone.

Melissa Merritt, a teacher at South Lake High School, told the Orlando Sentinel in 2002 that some of her students don’t seem to think grammar and punctuation rules apply to them. Merritt said this week that the problem hasn’t gotten any better. She used to address the issue when it came up, but now she warns about IM lingo and text slang at the start of the school year.

“It drives me crazy,” Merritt said. “It goes right back to them. I don’t grade it until they fix it. I think it’s dumbing them down because they don’t even remember how to spell anymore.”

Hallinan disagrees. He said texting has actually made him a better speller because of his phone’s predictive text feature. When he types in the first few letters of a word, the phone fills out of the rest.

“Now I know how to spell a lot more words, like ridiculous,” Hallinan said.

Colonial High School teacher Lynne Edinger, who also was interviewed in 2002, said things have gotten better.

“At that time, I seemed to see all sorts of `b/c’ for because, `w/o’ for without and `b4′ for before and all that,” said Edinger, who has taught at the school for 24 years. “I really don’t see that anymore. Maybe it’s because teachers like me have circled the stuff and said, `What? What is this?'”

Also, 48% of the parents surveyed said their teens write more than they did when they were the same age.

“If you can write, I think your teachers view you as a better student,” said Matt Phillips, 16, a tenth grader at Edgewater, who was sending a text message that said “where u at” to his friend Thursday afternoon. “And then you have more self-confidence. I am really glad that I can write really well. A company is not going to hire you if you can’t form a sentence.”

In 2005, the College Board revised the SAT by requiring students to write an essay. But despite the prevalence of text slang in students’ writing, an official with the College Board said there have been very few instances of emoticons-combinations of symbols that resemble facial expressions-or text shortcuts showing up in SAT essays.

Sterling says that in the future, the line between electronic communication and formal writing may blur even more.

“A lot of young people are not using a capital letter after a period (to start a new sentence),” Sterling said. “How long will that take to become part of the language? It could be 10 years, or it could be 50 years. I have a feeling that we will see some changes because of the Internet, and I am not sure that the loss of capitalization is that important.”

© 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.