Yes, teens really can write literate email messages

A lot of adults are complaining that teens are “illiterate” in their writing, especially in email messages — you know, “kids these days…” and all that — but that’s not what I’m seeing. The abysmal level of teenage writing is usually attributed to their addiction to text messaging, a.k.a. texting. For example:

The youth of Ireland are becoming increasingly poor spellers and writers, and their love of text messaging on cellphones is a major reason why, according to the Education Department.

In a report published Wednesday on national test results in English for about 37,000 students aged 15 and 16, the department’s Examination Commission said cutting-edge communications technology has encouraged poor literacy and a blunt, choppy style at odds with academic rigor.

“Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing,” said the report written by the department’s chief examiner, whose identity is kept confidential to safeguard the integrity of tests.

The report branded today’s teens “unduly reliant on short sentences, simple tenses and a limited vocabulary.”

Ireland is among the world leaders in cell-phone use — in part because of traditionally high costs for conventional phone lines — and surveys indicate that a majority of children have their own mobile phone by age 12, with the most enthusiastic texters sending more than 250 a week.

Yes, that happens to be Ireland. But we hear the same kind of complaints in this country as well. However, as I said above, that’s not what I’m seeing. Of course I may have a very skewed sample, consisting primarily of Weston students, but since I’m not pretending to be doing a statistically valid survey I’ll go ahead with my observations, skewed though they may be. Here’s what I see. I’ll stick to email, since that’s where we’re most likely to see overly informal writing:

Most students know how to address adults (teachers, at least) in their writing, even when using email. The big exception is the capitalization of the pronoun “I,” which often appears uncapitalized. Otherwise their grammar, style, punctuation, and spelling are all pretty reasonable. I’m not claiming that we have works of literature here — merely that the quality of writing is close to that of adults.

To gather my evidence, I looked at 20 consecutive email messages written by my students in October. (As I say, it’s certainly not a rigorous survey, nor was it meant to be.) Here they are in their entirety; I have omitted no messages, nor have I edited anything beyond adding message numbers and altering students’ names. Judge for yourself.

1 Hey Mr. Davidson,

I hope that i could get a recommendation from you. I’m sorry i couldn’t get to you earlier about the recommendation letter.
To make it easier for you, i’ll be sending the info you need over email. However since i do not have the finalized list of the colleges that i would like to apply to, is it possible to hold onto the the rec. till i can get you the list of colleges? After i’ve narrowed my list down i’ll be able to give you the letters that you need to send them off in. Thanks a lot.

2 Hey Mr. Davidson,

I am doing a lot better today, yesterday and Tuesday were truly awful though, so although i’m not 100%, I feel “relatively GREAT” and it was very nice to get back to school today. I stopped by your desk after school to talk about what I missed and you weren’t there, but luckily I’ve been getting filled in pretty well from classmates, and borrowed a textbook, so i’m not behind, and just may need some help completing tonights assignment. I noticed a note on your desk that said you will miss tomorrows class, is this true?

Thanks for the check-in, I appreciate it, and I hope to see you soon!

3 Hi Mr. Davidson,

This is Stu Dent in your H block Geometry class. I’m just wondering
what days you free after or before school this week before the 18th?
Thanks alot!


On the westonmath website for #6 on tonight’s homework I’m not sure what the &ndash means. Should I assume the question is for (X+2)^2?

5 Hi Mr. Davidson,

I was wondering if there was a possibility I could meet with you tomorrow morning regarding proofs as I am confused going about proving them especially with word problems such as the one with the bus and railroad for example. I’m willing to come whenever you are available (except maybe not 3:00 AM in the morning!).

6 Hi Mr. Davidson

I’m having some trouble with the domain and range part of tonight’s homework, as well as the Dr. scheme questions. Could I meet with you at 7:15 tomorrow morning to go over it?

7 Hi Mr. Davidson

I’m in your Honors Geometry class Block F. I just have one question. For the sample problems you gave in the book, I’m not quite sure what method I should use to solve the last question, number 43. I usually use guess and check, but I know there could be an equation to solve it, but I’m not quite sure what the equation is.

8 Hello Mr. Davidson,
I have registered onto the math blog site and I was wondering how to do I actually post a blog since I have not been able to find the button that allows me to actually make a post.

9 Hi Mr. Davidson,

Tomorrow I have a study hall first and last block.  I was wondering if you were free either of those blocks so that I could go over the test with you.


10 Hi Mr.Davidson,
I went over the clock problems with a friend and now I understand it so I don’t need to meet with you! Thanks

11 Hi Mr Davidson,
Could i see you tommorow morning before school starts to go over some test questions and concepts? Thanks

12 Hi Mr. Davidson,

I’m in your F Block Honors Geometry class. I just have one question. On the test, on problem 3, for the collinear points question, I think it was the last one. I got that question wrong because I said the points were collinear. I don’t know why, though, its wrong. Can you please explain it to me so I don’t make the same mistake on future test or quizzes?


13 Hello,

I just submitted the post that I created on the blog website.
I did not remember how to make the math look like math.
Also, when I try to preview it, it says “Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.”
I probably did something wrong and I’m not really sure how I can fix it.


14 Hi Mr. Davidson,

I think I may have left my math book in your class on Friday. If you have it could you please let me know and I can get it on Tuesday.

Thank you very much and have a good long weekend!

15 It is Stu Dent. I have contacted you because i finished my blog, and saved it, but then logged out, and it seems now that the website could be messed up, because when i try, it says “Cheatin’ Uh.” I will continue to try, but could you please respond, because i would like to have my post up.

16 Hi Mr. Davidson,
This seems like forever ago, but at the end of last year you said you could help me out by writing my college recommendation.  I have the form from the school and the forms from almost ready to give you, so I thought I should let you know where I am/remind you.  I am applying to one school Early (November 1), so I also have an envelope from that school, and then I will bring the rest later when I decide what schools I am going to apply to Regular (January 1).
Would you like to meet with me before you write it?  Or can I just drop off the packet of papers with you?
I only have one free, so if we met it would probably have to be either in the morning, during lunch, or quickly after school.
Thanks for all your help,

17 Hi Mr.Davidson,
My parents and I discussed my last quiz and test grades we thought
that maybe I should consider taking the CP geometry course. Do you
have any input on this and is there an F block CP geometry class?
Please let me know.
Thank you,

18 Mr. Davidson
So i know it’s been a while since we’ve talked but I was wondering if you need anything from me for teacher recs. I will have the envelopes and teacher rec form to you for Thursday. May I drop it off Thursday after school? I am actually just giving you the info (envelope, due date) for the school that I am applying early to because I still have to finalize my other schools. I will tell you the rest of the schools as soon as I finish my list. I hope that’s okay.

19 hi mr. davidson!
its Matilda. well i was talking to Stu Dent and he tried helping me with the blogging but it wouldnt work. and he said that i had the same problem as him and the admin messed up the account or something like that. i couldnt write the blog! let me know how to fix it. see you tomorrow!

20 Hi Mr. Davidson, I’m finishing up the teacher recommendation package that I plan to give to you tomorrow in school. There are a few things that I can include if you feel that you need or want them: my activity list, parent brag sheet, the teacher rec Basic Questionnaire, etc. Would you like me to include any of these in your package?

Categories: Technology, Weston