No They Aren’t “Better Writers”

And no, technology isn’t necessarily the reason that students might think that they are good writers. The headline writers at the BBC online took quite a few liberties today with this one:

Children who use technology are ‘better writers’

That is not what the survey said. Nor is it what the reporter, Zoe Kleinman, wrote:

Of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47% rated their writing …

Read that quote again. The reporter wrote that the students rated themselves. The survey was even more explicit: students rated themselves as “very good” or “good” or “could be better” or “not very good” writers — judging self, not product. It may not be surprising to learn that the students were pretty much split down the middle between the two groups.

The survey report noted that students with blogs were significantly more likely to judge themselves as “very good” or “good” as writers. Might the fact that these students have a blog reflect that they like to write? And if you like to write, might you not think you’re better than average at it?

What percentage had a blog? Only 25 percent of those who answered this question. Of those, 60.7 percent rated themselves as “very good” or “good” writers. Of the 75 percent who did not report having a blog, almost half — 47.3 percent — thought they were “very good” or “good” writers. Yes, that’s significant, but that does not mean that having a blog is the reason. Correlation is not causation, and the researchers do not make that claim.

Social networking sites? Only 56 percent of the students used SNS, and 56.4 percent of those rated themselves as “very good” or “good” writers. Almost half, 46.9 percent, of those who did not use SNS also rated themselves as as “very good” or “good” writers. Yes, the 10 percent difference is probably statistically significant, but again, correlation is not causation.

I think writing is important. I think writing regularly is a key to improving both writing and thinking, but reading is almost as important. “Knowing how to type” is not important, but it was the second-most cited reason for why the students thought “they are good writers.”

I not going to pretend to know how important it is to know how students self-assess. But I do know that misleading headlines are important. And I don’t expect them from the BBC.

Other sinners: The Read-Write-Web: Researchers Say the Social Web Improves Kids’ Literacy (Geeks Say ‘Duh’) and Technologizer: Survey: Social Media Makes Kids Better Writers.

Someone buy all of those writers A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper.

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