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Don’t blame the students

Posted by lpearle on 21 June 2012

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on this year’s YALSA Excellence in Non-Fiction for Young Adults award committee and will be spending eight hours over this next weekend discussing the over 40 books we’ve read (ok, not all of them – we’ll concentrate on the ones that have been nominated).  In other news, I’ve been asked to join the LIRT Transitions committee, which focuses on the high school to college transition.

What’s the connection?

Let’s suppose I’ve been reading a number of books on the 300-year history of the Q-Tip*.  Some might be biographies and memoirs about people involved in the evolution of the Q-Tip, while others are histories of major turning points in Q-Tip history (for example, the movement from wood to cardboard to plastic sticks – and yes, some of the books I’ve been reading are just that granular).  One of the things we are supposed to look at are the additional items: maps, glossaries, timelines, etc..  With the exception of the memoirs, almost all the books include a section on additional reading.

When I work with students on their own research, that last section is called a Bibliography or a Works Cited (which are two different things, but often teachers don’t make that distinction).   We spend many hours teaching them not only how to properly cite sources but when to cite sources.  It’s the last part that is somewhat problematic, as they understand citing a direct quote but don’t understand why they should also cite any information that’s new to them during the course of their research.   I usually hand out a page or two from Alison Weir’s books to help them along.  Yes, I’ve talked about this before.

Here’s the problem.  Those books I’m reading? The supposedly “excellent” YA non-fiction books? I can count on one hand, having more than enough fingers left over to not really interrupt my life, the books that have actually used real footnotes and citations.  Instead, they cite the direct quote, leaving the information they’ve found alone – and by not including a formal Bibliography or Works Cited, they leave it up to readers to figure out where they actually did the research.

From a school librarian’s point of view, as an example for students to follow? Those books are a fail.**

Let me repeat that:

FAIL

It’s not just a problem in K-12, it’s a problem in undergraduate and postgraduate education, too.  A friend at a major research library said she spends a lot of time – a lot – working with graduate students and teaching them how and when to cite.

You’re seeing the connection now, aren’t you?  The question/quandary is how do I, working K-12, ensure that my seniors graduate knowing not just how to cite (since citations have changed over the past few years) but when to cite and what to cite.  What can I do to hardwire it into their brains that their research needs citations and not just for the “easy” stuff like direct quotations?  This is one of the biggest concerns for professors and librarians working with first year students – how can I ease their burden?

And as a member of this award committee, is it at all possible to convince publishers to help us by providing resources that model good citing?

(* I have no idea how old the Q-Tip is, I haven’t been reading books about Q-Tips, I just like them.  Deal with it.)

(** This statement does not reflect my views on the books as “excellent” examples of non-fiction for young adults – there are many, many more considerations and to rule out a book because of this quibble would mean that none of the 40+ books I’ve read would meet that standard.  I’m merely complaining about the difficulty, as a school librarian, of using these books to model good citations!!!)

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One Response to “Don’t blame the students”

  1. “You’re seeing the connection now, aren’t you?  The question/quandary is how do I, working K-12, ensure that my seniors graduate knowing not just how to cite (since citations have changed over the past few years) but when to cite and what to cite.”
    ^This. As a TA in the humanities (university English, to be specific), I’ve noticed that while most of my students come to me with at least a basic concept of *how* to cite, they certainly did not know that they needed a works cited for all assignments. I am now always careful to mention that:
    1.) a works cited page is required even if the only source on it is your primary text, and
    2.) no matter how informal an assignment is (personal response journals, in this case), a works cited page is still necessary.

    (also, I’ll be staying tuned to see what you come up with! Great post!)

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