Thunder Bay students learn to text with a critical eye

The students at Algonquin Avenue Public School in Thunder Bay aren't allowed to have their cell phones on in class, but they’re learning how to effectively use them.

Northwestern Ontario teachers aim to help students communicate more effectively

Thunder Bay teacher Martine Engel teaches her Grade 6 class how to read text and instant messages critically. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

The students at Algonquin Avenue Public School in Thunder Bay aren't allowed to have their cell phones on in class, but they’re learning how to effectively use them.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office reports that more than half of Grade 6 students in Thunder Bay read text messages and emails every day.

A Grade 6 teacher at the school says she is not surprised by the outcome of the EQAO survey.

"These kids are growing up with technology around them,” Martine Engel said.

“Most families have one, two or more devices in their home, whether they're cell phones or iPod ... so, it doesn't surprise me at all that that's the bulk of their reading."

Engel uses examples of text messages to teach literacy

"When the kids are texting, they're using short forms all the time. I'm having a hard time keeping up with what their short forms are,” she said.

“They have to think very carefully about who their audience is. I don't want them writing in any way to me using those short forms. They learn … what they are and aren't allowed to do."

‘They’re going to be lost’

Student Tori Tyance said she has first-hand experience in communicating with an audience other than her peers.

Once she put phone slang into a letter for her grandmother. 

"She phoned me that night asking what the heck I wrote,” she said.

Engel said that's why she brought texting into the classroom, "so that, if they are applying for a job down the road, hopefully they're not using a lower-case 'I' or some of the other short forms that they use."

Engel said students can learn a lot from reading non-traditional literature, but they need to be taught to read with a critical eye.

But an elementary teacher in Longlac said students need to learn how to read text messages more than they need to know the classics.

Dean Burke says kids don't read Shakespeare unless they have to — but they're sending each other instant messages every day.

“I see teaching these skills as a necessary piece, because if they're going into this world unable to communicate in the language that they're growing up in, they're going to be lost,” said the Grade 7/8 Our Lady of Fatima School teacher.

One thing he talks about with his students is how one can misinterpret text messages.

"A lot of text messages aren't punctuated properly, if at all, and that can change the meaning of things, [as can] short form and … slang,” he said.

“So, really [we need to teach] kids how to read those text messages and how to ensure that they can really communicate their ideas in 140 characters or less."


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