Txt msgs linked to reading skills

Instant messaging, chatting, and text messages are often mentioned in the same breath as complaints about the decline of children’s spelling and reading skills. Predictions about the decline of literacy as a result of the abbreviations and misspellings commonly used on the internet and mobile phones were being made as early as 2006, although some writers expressed their belief that children are sophisticated enough to recognize correct spellings even when using abbreviations.

A study in the March 2009 issue of British Journal of Developmental Psychology compared the reading skills of children who use text messaging to those that don’t. Beverley Plester and her colleagues at Coventry University asked 10 to 12 year-olds to compose text messages describing a number of scenarios. Children who used abbreviations and unusual spelling also scored higher on a reading test! Girls were more likely to use text spelling than boys, and children who used cell phones at a younger age had the highest reading scores. The researchers theorized that the use of abbreviations and unusual spellings may reflect heightened phonological awareness skills, but the higher reading scores remained even after accounting for working memory and phonogical abilities. It is possible that the reading practice obtained by communicating via text messages leads to better test performance.

Unfortunately, the potential negative impact of early cell phone use – although the research on cell phone radiation and cancer has not conclusively shown a link, some authors (including Dr. David Dutwin, author of Unplug Your Kids) have recommended that parents delay giving their children cell phones. Could e-mail or instant messaging provide the same reading benefits as those found in Plester’s research? If the effect comes from practice with reading and writing, then chat and email might provide the benefits without the radiation. These activities shouldn’t replace reading to kids or more formal writing exercises – exposure to correct spelling and more complex vocabulary and ideas is still important.

You can read more about the study here.

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2 Responses to Txt msgs linked to reading skills
  1. Keith Rispin
    March 22, 2009 | 11:05 pm

    Text messages and messaging is doing nothing to help kids communicate effectively. I even get kids handing in assignments littered with text abbreviations and they expect me to mark it. Cell phones are the scourge of the classroom. Get rid of them, permanently.

  2. brianmacdonald
    March 23, 2009 | 7:45 pm

    I guess the issue here is one of balance. Kids who text but aren’t reading otherwise might NOT be exposed to the proper spelling of words – the reading benefits might come at the expense of correct spelling.

    Like I said above, more formal reading and writing exercises remain essential to expose kids to correct spelling along with complex vocabulary and ideas.