Posts Tagged ‘Textese’

Eighty percent of students in my introduction to sociology course this semester are freshmen.  I’ve taught classes with freshmen plenty of times, but there were lots of sophomores, juniors, and seniors to dilute the freshmenness of them.  So far this semester it has been extremely evident that these students have never experienced college life.  This is evident in their use of textese, it is evident in their time management skills, and it is evident in their talking during class.  Obviously, a lot of talking in my courses is sanctioned but I have had constant problems with students talking to each other instead of paying attention or sharing their opinions with their classmates.

When this happens, my first inclination is to call them out.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that this helps anybody but me.  Long ago I did some observations in an alternative high school and marveled at the way that students who weren’t paying attention were asked questions that brought them back into the discussion rather than alienating them.  This is the model I have tried to follow when teaching my own courses.  When these tactics fail, I talk to students after class or during a group exercise and ask them to “do me a favor” and stop talking.  This usually works and I think students appreciate that I did not call them out in front of their classmates.

These tactics did not work this semester.

Because of the freshmenness of these students, I feel that one of my jobs is to school them about college life.  To this end I spent ten minutes at the beginning of a recent class talking about the financial costs of attending a private college and the fact that students who talk are wasting the money of those around them.  I also talked about the fact that college students, unlike high school students, have the choice to stay home.  I concluded by telling them that speaking out of turn, whether they are ignoring me or a classmate, will lead to an invitation to leave the classroom.  We’ll see how it goes.

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I’ve been teaching college students for five years and in this time I have encountered a lot of students who were bad writers.  I’m reminded of this as I sit in front of a pile of student essays, many of which are lacking in basic spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.  I have encountered at least two essays that include the textese word “u.”

A recent post on the Chronicle website details some of the difficulties of dealing with student writing, including this example:

During a conference with another student, “Belinda,” I mentioned the subject of childhood reading. “Books are great,” Belinda declared. “Nancy Drew mysteries, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka. I love them all.”

“Good,” I said. “Now you need to do what the authors of those books did.”

“What’s that?”

“Master the basics of the sentence,” I said.

Belinda turned huffy. “But my mother teaches English.”

Being used to spontaneous outbursts of illogic from students, I replied politely, “Perhaps she can help you learn how to create sentences properly.”

Belinda changed tactics. She leaned forward and asked, almost conspiratorially, “What do I really need to do to get an A?”

Acting flirtatious may have gotten her high grades in high school, but I said, “You need to clear up comma splices and eliminate sentence fragments.”

Belinda waved one hand dismissively and laughed. “That’s what my professor said last semester.”

Apparently she expected a new instructor to be more original in evaluating the quality of her work.

I walked Belinda through my former professor’s tried-and-true worksheets about fragments and commas, but her next paper displayed the same problems that her previous ones had. This flummoxed me. Graduate students in English write without having to think about the rules; in fact, grad students may not be able to explain the rules or even diagram a sentence, since they intuit what to do when they write. Belinda did not share that gift, nor did a number of other freshmen.

Unfortunately, there are no solutions (yet… this is the second part of a series so I hope that the author will include some suggestions to help deal with these issues eventually).  If the experiences of this person, who was a graduate student teaching English composition, are indicative of those who teach English composition in general, this goes a long way to explain the poor writing abilities of my own students.  Of course, if basic improvements can be made to the writing abilities of freshmen in mandatory composition courses, those like me who devote large amounts of time in each course to the improvement of student writing may be able to spend that time focusing on the content of student essays rather than the mechanics.

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