Published Online: May 12, 2010

Schools Face Texting Explosion Among Teens

Text messaging has become the preferred method of communication for teenagers, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

The survey, conducted from June to October 2009, found that 54 percent of teens were texting daily—up from 38 percent only 18 months earlier.

Half of the students in this age group send 50 or more text messages a day, and one in three send over 100 messages per day. (That translates to somewhere around 3,000 text messages per month.) By comparison, only 38 percent of those teens said they talked on the phone every day, and only 33 percent talked face-to-face with friends daily.

“Among all teens, their frequency of use of texting has now overtaken the frequency of every other common form of interaction with their friends,” the Pew researchers wrote.

Teen Cellphone Usage

The Pew Research Center, based in Washington, surveyed a national sample of 800 teenagers on the phone and ran nine focus groups to conduct the study.

The survey’s findings on teens’ use of cellphones in school likely won’t surprise many teachers. Sixty-five percent of teens at schools that ban cellphones said they still bring them to class daily, and 58 percent of teenagers sent a text message in class despite a school ban on cellphones.

In one of the more shocking findings, 25 percent of students ages 12 to 17 said they have made or received a call in class. Perhaps less surprisingly, 64 percent of teens have sent a text message during class.

While wary of in-class distractions, schools are increasingly attempting to adapt to teens’ cellphone habits. A middle school in Haverstraw, N.Y., for example, has begun a pilot program in which it issues limited-function cellphones that students can use in class. AOL News recently reported that texting is becoming part of the classroom experience nationwide.

“Most of the students in our classrooms have grown up in a participatory culture,” Bill Ferriter, a middle school teacher in Wake County, N.C., who incorporates technology into his instruction, wrote in an e-mail. “To capture the attention of today's tweens and teens, we've got to embrace this commitment to participation in our daily lessons. The presentation culture that has defined our schools just doesn't resonate with kids. Until we incorporate more collaborative experiences into our instruction, our students will continue to feel disconnected from their own learning.”

“I think there are ways that we can begin to use texting in the classroom to promote learning and also as an entry point into a conversation around appropriate uses of technology,” added Will Richardson, a former high school English teacher who is now a consultant in educational technology. “That's not to say that we create a ‘texting unit’ that we teach in 7th grade, but more that we need to make texting a piece of how we do our learning practice K-12 and beyond.”

A recent study from the United Kingdom’s National Literacy Trust found that students who text develop stronger core literacy skills than their peers. "It is a form of reading and writing,” said John Coe, general secretary of the (U.K.) National Association for Primary Education. “It might not be conventional but they are communicating, so there is a general gain.”

Not all schools have accepted texting as status quo, however. Riverdale Country School in New York, for example, recently asked its 250 middle school students to give up texting and social media for two days. Fewer than half the students agreed to participate in the experiment, but those that did found the text-free day “unusually relaxing,” according to the New York Times.

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