Headmistress: Save English B4 2 late :(

NICOLA WOOLCOCK
Last updated 11:11 28/03/2014
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Eliminating "text speak" and its impact on children's spelling and grammar is among the greatest challenges facing teachers, says a leading headmistress.

Caroline Jordan, the head of Headington School for girls in Oxford, England, says abbreviations and slang used in text messages and on Twitter are "eroding hard-learned skills", and pupils are growing up with a more limited vocabulary because they spend less time reading books.

She criticised plans by the British Government for a core mathematics qualification for all sixth formers from September next year. Instead, she said, there should be a drive to stop the damaging impact of instant messaging on written English work.

Mrs Jordan, whose boarding school charges fees of about £30,000 (NZ$58,000) a year, writes on her blog: "If we are going to make all students carry on with one subject at sixth form, why not English? Our English skills are constantly on display, often making the difference between landing a job and having a misspelled application filed in the bin.

"With the continuing reliance on technology, text speak is eroding hard-learned skills in such basic areas as spelling and grammar. Perhaps this is the area we should be seeking to protect above all else. A command of our own language in today's competitive world is essential."

Mrs Jordan said fewer people had a good command of the English language and she feared excessive use of social media meant teenagers were no longer expanding their vocabulary by reading fiction for pleasure.

"I have to be able to write in a way that's acceptable. Unfortunately, there's a smaller group of people who can write at that level.

"We should teach English in a traditional way. The correct use of grammar and spelling is important, but there is going to be a whole generation which is not necessarily able to do that.

"Text speak is having an inevitable impact on this generation and they need to realise when it's appropriate to write the correct response to a question.

"If youngsters are not reading in the same way, and if they are spending a lot of time using social media, I wonder how much new vocabulary they are exposed to."

The impact of text message and email slang on school work has divided opinion. Some researchers say there is no evidence of a decline, while other experts - and many teachers - disagree.

A year-long study by Coventry University assessed primary and secondary school pupils and university students. It found a link between punctuation errors in text messages and spelling ability in the youngest group.

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An American study of teenagers suggested that frequent text messaging could lead to declining grammar skills. The research, published by Pennsylvania State University, found that students aged about 14 who frequently used "techspeak" went on to perform poorly on grammar tests. They also used abbreviated spelling, such as "GR8" instead of "great", and "wud" instead of "would".

Academics said that there was evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the frequency of text messages containing truncated words.

However, Joe Walsh, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said good English teachers encouraged their students to understand that language worked in different ways in different contexts.

"Language changes in every generation, reflecting the ways in which the world is changing."

Mrs Jordan also criticised the maths curriculum. Rather than making all students study maths until the age of 18, she said that the subject should be reformed to concentrate on household management, budgets, mortgages and interest rates.

"I would like to see more attention paid to essential practical aspects such as financial and household management and a clear understanding of the sometimes bewildering world of interest rates and mortgages."

There was "dire shortage" of maths teachers, with maths graduates being offered a £25,000 "golden hello" to train as teachers, Mrs Jordan said, so it was difficult to see how enough maths teachers would be found to teach all pupils until the age of 18. The Times

- The Marlborough Express

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