Using language to communicate meaning on a global playing field is a challenge. This has become evident this week while working with the Horizon Project. This project involves 58 students from 5 diverse classrooms as well as many educators from many different parts of the world. It is being conducted with English as the first and only language however we are witnessing national and cultural differences in the way we express ourselves and even how we spell.She documents several cases of differences in both terminology and spelling between classes in different parts of the world, and wonders about the value of agreeing on a standard. You should read the many thoughtful comments, but I’ll repeat most of my comment here:
I think the students can handle it. I think it's something to talk about with them - definitely a teachable moment - but once they are aware of the issue, I think they'll do just fine. If we encourage them to make sure they communicate with each other any time there is confusion, isn't that a valuable skill in and of itself?To me, both of these points are critical in the 21st century. Our students (and adults) will need to be really good at communicating with folks that not only don’t share the same time zone, but often have other differences – both in terms of language usage and in terms of cultural differences. By helping them learn to communicate better – and to be open and transparent when there is a communication problem – we are preparing them to be successful not only with international collaboration projects, but in their own schools, classrooms and families. Good communication skills will serve them well anywhere and everywhere.
And, of course, unless you are planning on convincing the entire web (at least the English portion of it) to standardize, aren't our 21st century students going to have to learn to deal with it?
This in turn made me wonder about spelling. I’m a pretty decent speller, most likely because I read a ton when I was a kid. While I haven’t taken any tests or anything, my guess would be that my spelling might be slightly worse now than when I graduated from college. Why? Several reasons, including age and that I don’t get the chance to read as much as I used to. But I think the main reason might be spell-check. Since I write almost exclusively on a computer, I know that it will auto-correct both typos and close misspellings, and that it will flag any words that it can’t autocorrect. That most likely allows me to be a little more “sloppy” when I’m composing my writing, which probably contributes – over the long run – to “losing” some of my spelling skills.
Some folks might say that’s the problem with spell-check, but I guess I would argue the opposite. If I have the ability to communicate effectively by using a tool like spell-check, then is the “skill” of unaided spelling one that I need anymore? If I can “get my ideas down” quickly and easily and use the tools available to me to clean it up and effectively communicate, is that a bad thing? As long as our students have the opportunity to interact with vast amounts of textual information (which gives them a large vocabulary and allows them to spell well enough to both read and compose), and that experience allows them to process, understand, and remix that information, is it as important as it used to be for them to master spelling?
I’m not saying that spelling (and grammar) aren’t important - they definitely are as a means to communication. But maybe we should be broadening our horizons a little bit and thinking about educating our students in the spelling and grammar of a “flatter”, ubiquitously and globally connected, technology-enabled world, not a geographically and technologically isolated one. Maybe it would behove us to analyse our programmes just a little bit and realise that changes are happening in our world - and perhaps we should honour and adapt to those changes.