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Sparknotes and Other Alternatives to Students Reading

Once again,  I know blogs are not a reliable source of information, but I felt it was necessary to post on this blog, especially following other posts about the ambiguous nature of cheating and how many students don’t actually feel like they are cheating when they are.  Here is the opening of the blog:

If you’ve had a book to read that you really didn’t want to read, something long and boring that you had absolutely no interest in save the fact that the subsequent report or essay due on Chapter 32 of that book is due in a week and your grade depends on it, there is a way to get around it. And it’s not cheating (at least not technically).

Personally, I want to be surprised by this attitude toward reading but I am not surprised because students have always tried to find ways to complete work without actually putting effort forth.  As I read through this article, I was frustrated with the blogger’s opinion but when I reread the blog, the idea that really stands out to me is that the authors opinion is real and blunt.  Students will attend to get out of working on assignments, and as one commenter on my last blog stated, cheating is for lazy students.  At first, I was taken aback from this statement because I have cheated in the past because I was afraid to receive a bad grade – bringing down my GPA – but laziness probably is the biggest factor. 

The article discusses the fact that students are “skipping an assignment that was designed to grow [their] intellect…But, hey if [their] intent on ignoring all of that and are really busy all week and just don’t have the time to read the book, then let’s move and look at [their] options.”  Students are busy with different assignments from different teachers, but they are missing their opportunity to expand their minds.  Alright, confession time, once again.  I have used Sparknotes to help me read a difficult novel, but a couple times, I have only read Sparknotes rather than the novel.  I know I missed out on actually experiencing the book but when reading specific novels, I would become disinterested because the professor did not introduce the novel well.  I do accept blame though, if any of you want to rip me apart.  I do think some teachers just hand out a novel though and say “read chapters one through twenty” without any enthusiasm, which makes it difficult for students to then express interest in the novel.

The article describes five different options for students to pursue…Sparknotes, movies, Amazon search, Google Scholar search, and misdirection (for essay writing).  The author gives students many opportunities to escape reading a novel, but although we can criticize the author, what is the point?  The problem isn’t the options that students have to escape working, but rather, the students individual drive to participate in the learning experience.  You should read the entire article if you’re interested and let me know your opinion. 

When All Else Fails, Find a Shortcut

By The Unemployed Writer

February 7, 2007


March 1, 2007 - Posted by | Eng 311 Articles


  1. The whole issue of sparknotes is very interesting to me. Never really having used sparknotes I am in some way ‘out of the loop’. I do agree with your point that when a teacher introduces a novel by saying,”here read this, test next thursday” it is more than a little disheartening to the student (especially one who, from the get go, wasn’t excited about English class). If students want to use sparknotes as a companion to the reading, I have no problem with that; I actually think it is a very good idea. However, if it a substitute for the work then that is wrong. I think one way of discouraging kids to substitute sparknotes for the novel would be to introduce the novel and say, “We are going to be reading MacBeth and you are more than welcome to use sparknotes to help you get through it if need be; however, don’t count on sparknotes to get you through, or even an A on the test. The test will consist of more than what sparknotes can offer you.” Then, back that up by making a test with several open-ended yet pointed questions. I really think you could make a test that would seperate those who actually did the work from those who just used sparknotes. I wouldn’t call sparknotes cheating, because the students aren’t plagarising nor are they copying another student’s work; however, I would call it laziness. I really think, as you mention, is is about the student’s drive to do the work, but I also think it has a lot to do with the teacher and how they present the piece of literature. Perhaps it is a 60/40 relationship

    Comment by prettyladyliun06 | March 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. I really liked this topic because it brings me staight back to my high school English class, and students frantically flipping through Sparknotes to cover the reading they failed to do the night before. You’ve got to love high school. One of my big questions on the topic is what we future teachers and current teachers can infer when glancing through, or reading these shortcuts can actaully get you by with a decent grade. I am not placing the blame completely on them because I do think one of the major problems is lazy students, but a small percentage of high school students will take the long way around if there is a quicker one. I wonder what teachers need to do to not allow this. Possible deeper questions of assignments than, “Who killed Desdemona?” And I know that we have talked about that in class already. I have actually never used Sparknotes for any sort of assignment. I thought about reading them with Shakespeare before, but I was too lazy to go and look it up online or try to find the book in the library. You brought up an excellent point when you said that it is difficult to jump into any book if the teacher does not help sell it to you. How will a student be excited if the teacher is not? It seems obvious how large of an influence teachers have on student’s education, but I think it is often lost sight of. Anyway, about the shortcuts. Like you said, these are good options to tie in with reading for further understanding, but they do not substitute for the real thing. No one is benefitting and we as future teachers must find a way to deal with this issue.

    Comment by canknight | March 14, 2007 | Reply

  3. Reading your post made me think about a couple of different english classes in highschool. I remember trying to use sparknotes to get through some of the more difficult passages in shakespear so I could acctually comment in class the next day. I then started to think about my senior english class and realized that I never once used sparknotes or cliffnotes of anytime through out it. The material in the class was deffinetly difficult, but I can never remember frantically searching for a summary of the story online. Then it clicked. What the difference was between these two classes was the teacher! One teacher barely presented the and didn’t explain it that well. My teacher for the senior english class helped us to dive head first into the tricky material. She worked through the more difficult points and helped us to sort through the material. We soon learned how to go through the material our selfs, so cliff notes were never needed! I can deffinetly see how students can use cliff notes to get out of reading an assigment, yet as you stated before, it can also be because of a poor explanation from a teacher. Reading your post and the artilce made reminded me of the teacher I wanted to become.

    Comment by jauntypag | April 15, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] Comment 7 […]

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  5. I have to admit, I have used the occasional SparkNotes for some help on books. I am a hypocrite. I hate the fact that students use tools like SparkNotes and Wikipedia as honorable sources, it really bothers me because there are other ways to get information. There are these wonderful things called books, but students now have probably never even used an encyclopedia. Although I don’t condone using SparkNotes, I think that AFTER reading something, if you don’t understand the text, then SparkNotes can be a good tool. I just hope there is a way to teach students without using bad sources and teaching them an honest way to write papers.

    Comment by cherneyn | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  6. […] Sparknotes…: Matt4386 […]

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  7. The worst feeling in the world is to read a complete novel, make a B on the test, and know that the student beside me that didn’t crack open the novel once, read SparkNotes on the novel the night before, received an A on the test. I’m in an AP Literature class now, and to those students reading SparkNotes it’s actually the “smart thing to do”. I’ve used SparkNotes as a study tool before, and have found it to be more than helpful, and maybe too helpful for students who take advantage of it. My teacher often tells us an essay question before the test in order for us to study and research information for our essay; a girl in my class went to PinkMonkey.com and used the forum to ask the exact essay question in order to get information on a book she didn’t read, ahem. I’ve become a hypocrite though; after seeing all the students ace tests using only online assistance for assigned novels, I’ve started using the websites as well, and have noticed the internet works wonders. I’ve never been the student to stand out in English classes, I’ve always made Bs. I’m more of a mathematical type of girl, I wouldn’t need any assistance in any math class, but I’m a very mediocre English student, and I don’t feel like I’m cheating when using the online websites. I know it’s the lazy way out, but I can’t even help it anymore, finding information online is so much easier.

    Comment by Chelsea | July 9, 2008 | Reply

  8. I think it’s interesting that Spark-notes is considered cheating. I think we need to reconsider our definition of cheating. Spark-notes is a valuable tool for understanding a novel quickly. As a supplement to reading the novel it is excellent. Of course, I would encourage both reading the novel and Spark-notes, but I believe as someone mentioned that there should be a way of detecting a stronger depth of understanding of the novel.

    I think that by reading Spark-notes and the novel, you stand to be best prepared for a test. By just reading Spark-notes, you probably will do worse than if you had read both. There is obviously a qualitative difference between a summary and a novel, and I think that tests need to be created that are able to detect the level of reading comprehension from a range of Spark Notes to having read the novel. For example, students who write class essays and have memorized specific quotes from the novel that relate to questions are more likely to have read the novel. Spark Notes offers some quotes, but by citing those as a student you are increasing your chances of getting caught; it is not recommended.

    I think that, in a crunch, students should be allowed to use Spark-notes without being penalized, as it is a valuable resource for aiding comprehension. Although, we need to be aware of Spark-notes, and grade the students who only use Spark-notes in place of the novel more severely. This is a struggle of our time, one that I expect we’ll get better with as life goes on.

    Comment by Jack | November 3, 2009 | Reply

  9. Speaking from the perspective of a high school student (junior this year). I don’t know about other schools but at my school most of the people in my english classes read both the book and the sparknotes. Especially for books that have particularly tough language that we are not used to. It’s nice knowing what’s going on so we can all actively participate in class discussions. If not it is going to be a dull class with hardly anyone raising their hand. There are a lot more advantages to Sparknotes than disadvantages. We get a more well-rounded view of the book. I don’t feel lazy for using them. Quite the opposite really. I feel like if I take the time to do extra research on what I’m reading rather than passing it off as unreadable I’m being productive. Sometimes my teachers put direct quotes from the book and you have to figure out who said that quote. If you only read sparknotes that’s not going to help you very much, so those who only read them and not the book should probably reconsider if your teacher tests you like that.

    Comment by Amory | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  10. […] Sparknotes and Other Alternatives to Students Reading « What has …Mar 1, 2007 … Sparknotes and Other Alternatives to Students Reading. Once again, I know blogs are not a reliable source of information, but I felt it was … […]

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