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Teachers say digital tech affects student writing

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The informal style and sloppiness of texting and social media is finding its way into students' writing, and teachers are learning it's a problem they need to address.

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A recent study by the Pew Center's Internet and American Life Project finds 68 percent of nearly 2,500 middle- and high school teachers surveyed across the country about the writing habits of their students say the Internet and mobile technology lead students to take shortcuts in their writing.

Mara Corey, who teaches advanced placement writing at Irondale High School in New Brighton, told Minnesota Public Radio for a story that aired Tuesday that she's seen a decline in writing skills during her 13 years of teaching.

"I think they have sloppy habits of mind, and I think that the Internet feeds into that," she said.

So Minnesota teachers are learning the need to tell students to keep texting-speak out of their work.

Nicholas Yopp, who attended a writing class for high school students recently at the Loft Literary Center, has heard the warning from his teachers.

"Every one of them has made it very clear that you will get a very low grade if you put texting acronyms in there," he said.

But Lee Cornell, a professor at Minnesota State University in Mankato who taught middle school English in the 1970s and 1980s, isn't sure the quality of student writing has slipped.

"If someone were to find 10 papers from each decade and throw them into a pile and ask people to sort them out, it would be really, really hard to say 'Oh this is so much better; this must be from the 90s,' or 'This is so much worse; it must be from the 2000s,'" he said.

But Cornell has noticed one big change in how students write.

"The structuring of particularly longer papers is more difficult for current students," he said.

On the positive side, 78 percent of teachers surveyed say the Internet and social media have brought out more personal expression in their students. They now have a bigger audience than they've ever had before.

"Before, maybe in the Stone Age, people who wanted to write about their favorite movie or book weren't able to show people," said 15-year old Ann Leimbach, of St. Paul.

Olivia Alger, a 14-year-old from Minneapolis, likes to work with other students using Google Drive, an online document-sharing site, but even that tool has temptations that can lead to sloppy work.

"The downside to that is there is an option where you can chat — so it's kind of nice, but it's really distracting," she said.

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