Note to Teachers


I have had a literature website ever since the web was widely used, and in the early days concerns were frequently presented to me that sites like this one are making the tasks of educators more difficult, by allowing students to more easily falsify their literary experiences.  In other words, kids don’t have to read books anymore to come up with reflections and summaries.  This is of course true, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come so fast in this regard– can you imagine a time when the web was so small that teachers could think they can make a difference to the availability of cheat notes by emailing a web designer?  It wasn’t too long ago– these emails came to me from 1998-2003.  It had been easy to cheat for a while even before the internet, actually, but of course now anything is available with a click of a button.  This is inevitable in an age of increasingly open communication and information.  I think we all know that an honor system is naive, and enforcing honesty is often unfeasible.  My response to the complaints was to provide a few solutions for teachers, if the objective is to educate fairly and make cheating at least approach the difficulty of actually doing the instructed work.  Perhaps most teachers are so internet-savvy today that they do not need any such advice, or have an even longer list of clever work-arounds.  But in case it’s still useful to someone out there, here is what I came up with:

The conventional book report is, or should be, dead. Never more should an English teacher merely ask for a synopsis and evaluation of famous works. Instead, try the following:

  • Diversity of assignments is the best strategy. This not only makes consistent cheating very difficult, but it is also the fairest strategy because it renders the overall curriculum less sensitive to variation in individual student learning styles and weaknesses.
  • Devise in-class discussions and quizzes/tests on the works, which will provide some incentive to read. A trivia quiz is especially useful for assessing comprehension, but it should be supplemented with other more general or abstract questions to reflect adequately the importance of the work. The trivia portion can even be performed orally like a spelling bee.
  • In reports or essays, assign particular questions that require a greater engagement with the work than a summary or thematic exposition could provide. For instance, ask the students to describe the relationship between two characters, explain a particular situation, or rewrite a major scene in one’s own words. In fact, several such questions can be proposed, and the students can be assigned one or more of them and even given choices. If possible, explain the particular requirements for these reports after the books were supposed to have been read (e.g., after the test). This way, the book might be read more thoroughly and freely. Nothing spoils the fun of reading more than the temptation just to “look for the answers”.
  • Ask students to assemble a list of quotations they found interesting, and require them to explain the context within which each one was found, and its significance. Websites and other sources might present quotations, but the additional material is rarely if ever provided.
  • Require comparison and contrast of the works that have been assigned over a period of time. This is an especially useful tool, as it requires a synthesis that could never be obtained through sites like this one. It is admittedly out of the range of younger children, however.
  • Finally, inspire those young minds to read and think and experience for themselves. Of course, this is the most difficult task, but it is the very reason you teachers exist! If you don’t do it– especially today when parental investment in the mental development of their children seems to be (sadly) declining– nobody will!


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Published on 24 May 2014 at 8:01 pm Comments (0)

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