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The impact of text messaging language shortcuts on developmental students' formal writing skills

Dissertation
Author: Sherry L. Rankin
Abstract:
The language shortcuts used in text messages are becoming evident in students' academic writing assignments. This qualitative study sought to determine if the use of the shortcuts has an adverse impact on developmental students' spelling and grammar skills. This research was based on the constructivist theory, which rationalizes that students use what they are most familiar with as they acquire new knowledge. The study was directed by four research questions to understand (a) how students use language shortcuts in their academic writing, (b) how language shortcuts influence students' spelling and grammar skills, (c) how well students are able to differentiate between casual writing and academic writing, and (d) how the use of language shortcuts influences the amount of writing students do. A bounded single case study using a sample size of 25 students included student interviews, a focus group, observation of students during a writing assignment, and analysis of students' graded compositions. Data collected from the interviews and focus group were manually transcribed and coded, and notes from observations and artifacts were used to ensure validity of the interview findings. Consequently, four themes emerged: (1) participants frequently used text messaging and language shortcuts; (2) language shortcuts commonly occur in students' academic assignments; (3) students agreed that language shortcuts have hurt spelling skills; and (4) the participants often have academic deficiencies that go beyond errors presented through text messaging and language shortcuts. The study's findings could influence positive social change in that developmental students could become more proficient writers if curriculum adjustments were made to connect academic writing instruction with the method of communication that students frequently use and understand.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY Introduction......................................................................................................................................1 Statement of the Problem.................................................................................................................3 Nature of the Study..........................................................................................................................5 Research Questions..........................................................................................................................5 Purpose Statement............................................................................................................................6 Conceptual Framework....................................................................................................................7 Definitions........................................................................................................................................8 Scope of the Study...........................................................................................................................9 Population and Sampling.............................................................................................................9 Assumptions...............................................................................................................................10 Limitations.................................................................................................................................11 Delimitations..............................................................................................................................11 Significance of the Study...............................................................................................................11 Summary........................................................................................................................................12

SECTION 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Introduction....................................................................................................................................13 Theoretical Framework..................................................................................................................14 Constructivist Theory.................................................................................................................15 Developmental Writing Classes.....................................................................................................18 Technology’s Influence on Writing Skills.....................................................................................22 Text Messaging’s Language.......................................................................................................23 Text Messaging and the Writing Curriculum.............................................................................24 Teachers’ Knowledge Base of Technology...................................................................................26 Research Methods..........................................................................................................................29 Summary........................................................................................................................................32

SECTION 3: METHODOLOGY Introduction....................................................................................................................................34 Research Design.............................................................................................................................34 Role of the Researcher...................................................................................................................35 Research Questions........................................................................................................................35 Study Context.................................................................................................................................36 Selection of Participants................................................................................................................37 Checks for Validity........................................................................................................................38 Data Collection..............................................................................................................................40 Data Analysis Plan.........................................................................................................................41 Summary........................................................................................................................................42

SECTION 4: PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF DATA Introduction....................................................................................................................................44

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Data Collection..............................................................................................................................45 Interviews...................................................................................................................................46 Focus Group...............................................................................................................................48 Observations...............................................................................................................................50 Artifacts......................................................................................................................................53 Data Analysis.................................................................................................................................54 Findings..........................................................................................................................................57 Discrepant and Nonconfirming Data.............................................................................................59 Evidence of Quality.......................................................................................................................59

SECTION 5: RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS Introduction....................................................................................................................................61 Interpretation of Findings..............................................................................................................62 Implications for Social Change......................................................................................................62 Recommendations for Action........................................................................................................63 Recommendations for Further Study.............................................................................................64 Reflections.....................................................................................................................................65 Summary........................................................................................................................................66

REFERENCES..............................................................................................................................67

APPENDIX A: COOPERATION FROM COMMUNITY RESEARCH PARTNER..................74 APPENDIX B: INTERVIEW SCHEDULE..................................................................................75 APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW GUIDE..........................................................................................76 APPENDIX D: TRANSCRIPT CODES.......................................................................................77 APPENDIX E: FOCUS GROUP GUIDE.....................................................................................78 APPENDIX F: OBSERVATION PROTOCOL............................................................................79

CURRICULUM VITAE................................................................................................................80

SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY

Introduction

The popularity of the cellular telephone has become increasingly evident among college students, just as important for many as their pencils, notebooks, and textbooks. One of the most widely used features of the phones text messaging service. Text messaging has become a vital part of students’ social lives (Harley, Winn, Pemberton, & Wilcox, 2007, p. 237). Today’s youth are “avid users and consumers of wireless technology” (Pitfield, 2004, p. 5). Students may prefer this form of contact because it is often included within the cellular service package for free or at a minimal charge and it allows students to consider their responses before sending messages (Harley, Winn, Pemberton, & Wilcox, 2007, p. 234). The students use text messaging so frequently that an article by Carrington (2005) referred to them as addicts: There is almost an unspoken comment here that recreational use of txting (sic) may ultimately lead to an addiction and a lowering of an individual’s ability to shift between text types according to social context – that increasing mastery and use of txt (sic) must ipso facto lead to withering skills around other text forms embraced within the parameters of Standard English (p. 167). This current research led to the formation of the research question that guided this study: How do text messaging language shortcuts influence developmental students’ formal writing skills? In regards to the research question about how text messaging language shortcuts influence developmental students’ spelling/grammar skills, the shortcuts allow students

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the option to communicate by using shortened words, acronyms, or codes to relay their meaning (e.g., L8R for later, B4 for before, u for you). These conversational forms allow the senders to construct their own meanings and, in a sense, a language of their own (Pitfield, 2004, p. 32). The author further postulated the following: The written message is an important object of social value, as young people have ownership of, or have immediate control over it. This raises the value of the text message even more as the object exchanged represents not only something that is personal, but also a symbol of young people’s independence (Pitfield, 2004, p. 37). On the contrary, the utilization of text messaging language in the classroom is considered by many educators to be an inappropriate form of language that is “infecting” Standard English and leading to lower scores on writing examinations (Carrington, 2005, p. 168). So the question arises as to whether this form of communication interferes with developmental English students’ spelling and grammatical skills, as well as their capacity to write comprehensible, succinct sentences. Text messaging language shortcuts have changed the way students approach and complete writing assignments (Carrington, 2005, p. 171). This point led to the following questions: How well are students able to differentiate between casual writing and academic writing? and How does the use of shortcuts influence the amount of writing students do? A study by Schaller (2007) argued that “students who were adept at text messaging were three times more likely to be above standardized literacy rates” (p. 58). As students embrace this popular form of technology, teachers are finding that they must

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learn to make adjustments to their writing curriculum. Teachers who use constructivist methods of teaching may best be able to connect this common form of technology to the students’ writing assignments. According to Lambert et al. (2002), constructivist learning involves posing questions on writing assignments that prompt students to utilize what they can identify with, which leads to more detailed writing assignments (p. 26). Teachers cannot underplay the technological advancements and they cannot discount the role technology plays in students’ everyday lives (Cunningham, 2004, p. 25); therefore, professional development would help them to keep up with the changes (Rooney, 2007, p. 87). When teachers improve their skills and knowledge about text messaging language shortcuts, students have a greater chance to learn material in a way that is relevant to them. Rakes, Fields, and Cox (2006) and Schroll (2007) connected the constructivist theory to technology in the writing classroom by asserting that when teachers use technology to accompany instruction they can reinforce increased learning skills (p. 411). Although technological methods do not replace instructional methods in the writing class, they can enhance the educational development of the students. More detailed discussions about relevant current literature to support the research questions appear in Section 2. Statement of the Problem

The attrition of developmental English students’ formal writing skills (Carlson, 2004) has resulted in some students using language shortcuts common in text messaging within their academic writing assignments (O’Connor, 2005, p. 2; Carrington, 2005, 163; Schaller, 2007, p. 2). Carrington (2005) described a student who wrote an entire essay in text messaging language shortcuts and stressed the implications text messaging has had

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on the educational system and society in general. The students seem to have become more dependent on the shortcuts, which may have adverse consequences on the students’ formal writing skills, according to Carlson (2004), who asserted that language shortcuts and colloquial language are “reinforcing bad habits in writing” (p. 1). The problem impacts Developmental English students at Jackson State University because many of them enter the university with deficient writing skills based upon their substandard ACT English subtest scores. There are many possible factors such as poor academic background and lack of college preparatory courses contributing to this problem, but the use of text messaging language shortcuts should be taken into consideration as well. According to a study reported by Schaller (2007), English students in high school in 2005 were 10 times more likely to use nonstandard forms of English on written exams than they were in 1980, opting instead to use the language shortcuts commonly used in text messaging (p. 2). This study contributes to the body of knowledge needed to address this problem by examining the impact, if any, that the language shortcuts have on the students’ formal writing skills. This study presents current literature as it relates to the prevalence with which students use common methods of technology, the role developmental courses play in bolstering students’ writing skills, and the constructivist theory of learning, which contends that students relate their existing knowledge to what they are learning (Lambert et al., 2002, p. 1). In this regard, students who use the text messaging skills they are familiar with to complete their writing assignments may, at times, produce substandard compositions.

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Nature of the Study

This study was a qualitative, single, bounded, within-site case study that examined the impact text messaging language shortcuts have on developmental students’ writing skills at Jackson State University. The 25 participants were randomly selected from a population of 89 students who were admitted to the university through the Summer Developmental Program in May 2009. To address the research question about how the language shortcuts influence the participants’ academic writing, the study consisted of interviews with the participants about their use of the language shortcuts. For triangulation purposes, focus groups also were conducted, the students were observed during a writing assignment, and participants’ previous compositions were reviewed. The interview instrument attempted to determine how often the participants use text messaging and the language shortcuts, and if the students’ use of the shortcuts occur in their academic writing assignments. Interview data were coded to identify themes in the participants’ responses (Creswell, 2003, p.193). Triangulation of the data verified recurring themes (Creswell, 2003, p. 196; Hatch, 2002, p. 92) to address the research question. The data collection method will be explained in greater detail in Section 3. Research Questions

The research question sought to determine if language shortcuts have an impact on developmental students’ academic writing skills. In addition, the question also sought to find out if these language shortcuts affect the students’ spelling skills. In an attempt to answer this question, four focus questions were derived to address the contributing factors.

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Research question: How are developmental students’ academic writing skills influenced by text messaging language shortcuts? Focus questions to address research question: 1. How do students use language shortcuts in their academic writing? 2. How do language shortcuts influence students’ spelling/grammar skills? 3. How well are students able to differentiate between casual writing and academic writing? 4. How does the use of language shortcuts influence the amount of writing students create? Purpose Statement

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to assess the role of text messaging language shortcuts in Developmental English students’ academic writing skills at Jackson State University. The instrumental case study permitted the researcher to study a group of 25 students (Creswell, 1998, p. 62). The components of this study helped to determine how the participants explain the influence of text messaging on their writing skills. “Any tools that can encourage the use of constructivist classroom practices and encourage the development of thinking skills in students should be considered important for all teachers and students,” (Rakes, Fields, & Cox, 2006, p. 422) wrote in formulating the explanation. The case study allowed the researcher to conduct interviews and facilitate focus groups with the participants, observe the participants in a natural setting, and analyze their graded compositions (Creswell, 1998, p. 62) in an attempt to determine if text messaging has any influence on the students’ writing skills.

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Conceptual Framework The conceptual framework for this study was taken from research that addressed students’ use of text messaging and its relationship on students’ writing skills (Carrington, 2005; Im, 2007; Pew Internet & American Life Project Writing Report, 2008; Pitfield, 2004; Schaller, 2007; and Tucker, 2009). Research revealed there was limited statistical information regarding the use of text messaging and its influence on students’ academic writing. The Pew Report (2008) provided statistical data to outline the impact text messaging has on society. This study revealed that as many as 85% of teens use text messaging (p. ii), and the study by Schaller (2007) connected students’ use of text messaging and their academic writing skills. Schaller (2007) reported the extent to which students’ use of text messaging overlaps into their academic writing assignments (p. 2). This descriptive study also demonstrated how the students use the language shortcuts by abbreviating or using codes for words (p. 2). The purpose of developmental education courses also was examined through the research studies (Alden, 2007; Bennett-Kastor, 2004; Department of Education, 2007; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2003; Russell, 2008; Southard and Clay, 2004), and developmental students’ writing skills were explored through several studies (Brilliant, 2005; Attewell & Savell-Smith, 2004; Huse, Wright, Clark, & Hacker, 2005; Reynolds & Bruch, 2002; and Romeo, 2007) in an attempt to illustrate the foundation for this current study. The researcher teaches developmental English and has observed the students’ use of language shortcuts in their writing assignments. Therefore, the research

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studies formed the basis for support of what has been observed in the researcher’s classroom. Definitions

Technology is continually advancing. As it becomes more personal and commonplace, some terms have become quite familiar. However, there are other terms that may not be as well known. This section provides a list of terms relevant to this study. Blog: Website that allows users to share written ideas (Scott & Mouza, 2007, p. 231). Case study: An in-depth qualitative research approach that studies a “bounded system” or case(s) using various methods for data collection such as interviews, focus groups, observation, and/or artifacts (Creswell, 1998, p. 249). Developmental students: Students who do not meet college/university admission requirements but who are allowed admission contingent upon them completing remedial courses in writing, math, and/or reading prior to taking college-level courses (Department of Education, 2007, p. 1). Instant messaging: Digital interactive technology that allows users to receive and send messages in real time via the Internet (Lewis & Fabos, 2005, p. 473). Language shortcuts: Abbreviations, shortened words or codes used to communicate short messages with other cellular phone users (Schaller, 2007, p. 7). Text messaging: A feature on cellular telephones that allows users to receive and send short messages (maximum of 160 characters) using the telephone’s alphanumeric keypad (Harley, Winn, Pemberton, & Wilcox, 2007, p. 1).

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Visual technology: Any form of electronic communication that allows users to see what is being exchanged. Writing process: The steps the students take to complete writing assignments (Langan, 2008, p. 25). Scope of the Study

Population and Sampling

All students who were granted admission into Jackson State University through the Summer Developmental Program in 2009 were considered the population. The program has existed on the Jackson State University campus since 1994 and admits an average of 80 students per year. The participants in the program are all students who do not meet requirements for regular admission to the university because of factors such as low ACT scores, low grade point average, and/or deficient college preparatory course requirements (Jackson State University Undergraduate Catalog, 2005-2007, p. 75). The students within this program apply for admission to the university from all over the country and are referred to the program by the admissions office based on their low ACT scores, low grade point average, and/or deficient course requirements. The researcher sent letters to all students who were participants in the Summer Developmental Program in 2009 requesting their permission and consent to be included in this case study. One group of approximately 25 students was randomly chosen from those consenting to participate in the study. All 25 students were interviewed personally about their text messaging practices. After the interviews, six participants were randomly selected for inclusion in the second part of the study, the focus group. The number of

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participants for the focus group was based on information from Hatch (2002), who wrote that most authors of qualitative research recommend that the size of focus groups be kept to about 6 to 12 participants to allow enough participants for discussion, but not such a large number that everyone does not get to speak (p. 135). The six participants discussed their use of text messaging language shortcuts in a small-group setting with the researcher serving as facilitator. The same six randomly selected students were observed in classroom settings during a writing assignment. The use of the focus group and observations served as methods to triangulate the data obtained from the individual interview sessions. In addition, previous writing assignments were analyzed to establish an idea of the students’ writing styles, grammatical skills, and command of the language. Assumptions

It was assumed that the participants in this study were representative of all developmental students. Developmental students are admitted to the university based on a variety of deficiencies such as low grade point average, low standardized test score(s), and/or absence of college-required core courses. Based on these deficiencies, there is the assumption that developmental students have less-than-average academic writing and spelling skills. In addition, there is the assumption that the majority of the research participants used the text messaging feature on their cellular phones and the language shortcuts commonly used with the method of communication. Limitations

The findings of this qualitative case study could be subject to other interpretations due to the participants’ proficiency of text messaging language shortcuts as well as the

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participants’ varied levels of academic writing skills. Also, the study was limited to developmental students. As such, the findings may not be applicable to the general population of students at the university. Furthermore, some of the potential participants were students in the researcher’s English class in Summer 2009, and so a relationship had already been established. Delimitation

The population for this study is all students who had been admitted to Jackson State University through the Summer Developmental Program. However, this within-site study focused solely on the 2009 Summer Developmental Program participants. The study was conducted during 2-months on the university campus. Significance of the Study Today’s students are a generation of learners who want things instantly, as exhibited by the use of text messages and the language shortcuts that are commonly used within the messages. Teachers also must have an understanding of how these students perceive their own academic writing skills. There are several common characteristics among developmental writers such as lack of confidence in their skills, discouragement caused by prior assessments, a lack of understanding of their errors and how to correct them, and a desire to write the perfect paper the first time (Ries, 2005, p. 24). After teachers know to what degree text messaging language shortcuts influence students’ writing skills, adjustments can be made to the curriculum to factor in the technological changes that may improve their deficient writing skills. Rochford (2003) proposed how best to help developmental students: “The less academically successful students are, the

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more important it is to accommodate their learning-style preferences because these are the students who often are placed into remediation and are unable to successfully negotiate college-credit courses” (p. 667). Teachers in developmental courses must find other ways, more relevant ways, to connect with those students (Cunningham, 2004, p. 26). The use of text messaging language shortcuts in the writing process may be that connection. Summary

This section of the proposed study has focused on developmental English students’ use of text messaging language shortcuts in formal writing assignments by introducing the research questions. It also looked at how the research questions relate to the theoretical framework and current literature. The remaining sections of this study will address the relevant professional literature, the research design, and its findings and conclusions, as well as recommendations for further study.

SECTION 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Introduction Writing teachers have encountered new challenges as text messaging language shortcuts have made their way into the academic writing classroom. A Pew Internet and American Life Project Writing Report (2008) revealed that 85% of teenagers use electronic communication, including text messaging (p. 3), yet adults, and writing teachers in particular, tend to frown upon students’ use of the practices because of the substandard spelling and grammar used within the communication (Jacobs, 2008, p. 203; O’Connor, 2005, p. 2; and Schaller, 2007, p. 3). The literature reviewed within this section explores how the constructivist theory supports the notion of connecting what students know about text messaging with what they do in their assignments. Specifically, the research looks at how and why some students are using text messaging language in their academic compositions. This section also looks at the function of developmental writing courses and the role they play in honing students’ writing skills and the knowledge base of teachers regarding this form of technology. Overall, the relevant literature sought to address the research question about how text message language shortcuts influence developmental students’ writing skills. This literature review begins with an exploration of the role the constructivist theory plays in the implementation of technology in the writing classroom. It continues with a look at the purpose of developmental courses in the university setting. Next, the study delves into technology’s influence on the writing curriculum and teachers’ knowledge of how to employ technology in the classroom. Finally, this section reviews

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the various research methods used in the scholarly studies. In order to find relevant information for this section, it was necessary to utilize various textbooks that dealt with educational research as well as the Thoreau Multiple Databases search engine available through the Walden Library. Key search terms included “case study,” “cellular phone,” “constructivist theory,” “developmental education,” “developmental writing,” and “text messaging.” Theoretical Framework Previous generations of English students were drilled about spelling, verb conjugation, proper punctuation and the like in an attempt to learn the components of a well-written composition. Applying B.F. Skinner’s theory of behaviorism, the writing teacher would provide instruction and model the compositions the students were to produce, and the practice would be repeated until the expected outcome was achieved (Irvin, 2001, p. 8). Students would rely on their memories and routine practices to complete writing assignments, and they possibly had no connection between how they were learning and what or how they were writing. Skinner’s concept of operant conditioning stressed the reinforcement of responses to attain learning (Snowman & Biehler, 2003, p. 227). Basically, the behaviorist theory allowed the learner to react to what was going on in the environment around him instead of allowing the learner to be actively involved in the environment itself (Braathen, 2000, p. 21). But questions arose as to whether the drills and repetition actually helped students learn to write well. Graham and Perin (2007) suggested that one way to combat the rigidity and repetitiveness of

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writing instruction is for teachers to focus more on students’ expressions instead of their grammar and spelling (p. 22) during the early stages of the writing process. Constructivist Theory As education continually evolved, teachers moved beyond the routine type of instruction to allow the students to be more involved in their learning process. The constructivist theory permitted students to be more in charge of their own educational processes and development. Constructivism was created based upon John Dewey’s belief that students increase their knowledge as a result of their experiences and social activities (Lambert et al., 2002, p. 28). Lev Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development expanded the idea of constructivism into the sociocultural realm, which stressed social interaction as a means of acquiring knowledge (Irvin, 2001, p. 9). The theorist suggested that learners must be exposed to those with more experience in order to promote advanced levels of learning (Boland, 2009, p. 15). In that regard, students and teachers play an active role in how knowledge is obtained and the tools used to gather that knowledge (Falcon-Huertas, 2006, p. 21). The constructivist theory is applied to the writing curriculum by having the teacher present composition topics that are relevant to the students and through which the students can write details based upon their prior knowledge, beliefs, and experiences (Lambert et al., 2002, p. 26). That writing instruction should also focus on stretching students’ minds and honing their awareness and creative thinking capabilities to produce compositions that demonstrate their understanding of what they know (The National Commission on Writing in American’s Schools and Colleges, 2003, p. 13). Students’ use

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of text messaging language shortcuts to prepare their writing assignments is an example of social constructivism. It allows students to gain meaningful knowledge using cultural items, such as the cellular phone, to create a common understanding with other students. In the modern classroom, writing assignments are usually completed using a form of technology. Adding technology to the curriculum is not a new approach. Skinner proposed the use of teaching machines in the 1950s to offer practice and drills in instruction (Nye, 1979; Snowman & Biehler, 2003). The machines were designed to keep the students actively moving through stages of instruction, reinforcing their positive responses as they went through the process (Nye, 1979, p. 56). Vygotsky connected the use of technology and his theory of cognitive development, by applying cultural knowledge, “conceptual tools,” and social interaction to education (Snowman & Biehler, 2003, p. 59). Schroll (2007) emphasized that when students are able to combine technological skills and constructivist principles, they are then able to improve their technology literacy skills in preparation for advanced learning (p. 1). In reinforcement of that point, Clough, Jones, McAndrews, and Scanlon (2007) conducted a study that looked at the benefits and distractions of using mobile phones in the learning process and found that people who frequently used mobile devices and had working knowledge of their various functions were more likely to increase their informal learning (p. 368). Constructive learning allows students to use their existing knowledge to grasp and retain the new knowledge. Sherman and Kurshan (2005) suggested that in order for classrooms to produce engaging learning, they should have eight characteristics for incorporating technology

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using constructivist approaches. The authors recommend that the classrooms should be active, interesting, “learner centered, focused on real life,” social, time-conscious, and provide frequent feedback and support (p. 39). When students are able to process information internally they are then able to produce assigned writing assignments with greater ease (Ruttle, 2004, p. 72). They are able to use what they have been taught through instruction and blend it with their preferred method of self-expression, which may be text messaging. Alvermann (2007) reiterated the importance of connecting the technological advancements students are familiar with to their assignments. The author added that teachers need to embrace innovative ideas that may be outside of the traditional style of teaching to allow the students to be more involved in their educational development (p. 18-19). O’Connor (2005) posited that popular forms of technology such as text messaging can be used as a learning tool if students are taught how to make the connection between its form of writing and the formal, academic writing (p. 4). Research tends to support that technological methods can enhance the learning process for students (Hertzog & Klein, 2005, p. 27). A study of the instructional use of text-messaging practices by DeArment (2002) found that when pedagogical practices were based on cognitive-constructivist theory, the students were believed to be actively involved in the lesson. They were able to “cognitively manipulate the course content” and transform their thinking in order to gain more meaning from the instruction (p. 203). Learning is a social activity (Lambert et al., 2002). In order for constructivist learning to take place, students must interact with others to obtain a full understanding of a concept (Lambert et al., 2002, p. 27). Because writing is a form of communication it is also a

Full document contains 90 pages
Abstract: The language shortcuts used in text messages are becoming evident in students' academic writing assignments. This qualitative study sought to determine if the use of the shortcuts has an adverse impact on developmental students' spelling and grammar skills. This research was based on the constructivist theory, which rationalizes that students use what they are most familiar with as they acquire new knowledge. The study was directed by four research questions to understand (a) how students use language shortcuts in their academic writing, (b) how language shortcuts influence students' spelling and grammar skills, (c) how well students are able to differentiate between casual writing and academic writing, and (d) how the use of language shortcuts influences the amount of writing students do. A bounded single case study using a sample size of 25 students included student interviews, a focus group, observation of students during a writing assignment, and analysis of students' graded compositions. Data collected from the interviews and focus group were manually transcribed and coded, and notes from observations and artifacts were used to ensure validity of the interview findings. Consequently, four themes emerged: (1) participants frequently used text messaging and language shortcuts; (2) language shortcuts commonly occur in students' academic assignments; (3) students agreed that language shortcuts have hurt spelling skills; and (4) the participants often have academic deficiencies that go beyond errors presented through text messaging and language shortcuts. The study's findings could influence positive social change in that developmental students could become more proficient writers if curriculum adjustments were made to connect academic writing instruction with the method of communication that students frequently use and understand.