Archive for the ‘Citing Sources’ Category

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Popular Culture and Common Knowledge

posted: 8.11.11 by Jack Solomon

The question of what constitutes common knowledge, for purposes of documentation, has come up here on the Bits blog, so I thought that a particular look at common knowledge and popular culture might be in order. Indeed, since one of the fundamental premises of Signs of Life in the USA is that our students’ existing knowledge of popular culture makes that topic especially useful for teaching critical thinking and writing skills, the question of how to document that knowledge is an important one.

The distinction between common knowledge and knowledge that needs documentation is often rather relative. It is common knowledge, for example, that Family Guy is a popular animated situation comedy. Any statement in a paper to that effect does not require documentation in any popular culture class that I teach. But in order to analyze such a program semiotically, students must be able to situate it in a generic and historical context, and here things get tricky. Any analysis of my own, for instance, will involve years of accumulated knowledge and viewing experience—what might be called “cumulative common knowledge”—that cannot and need not be documented. I watched The Flintstones as a child, for example, and so can immediately bring it to bear upon an analysis of later animated family sitcoms without needing documentation (indeed, how could I document it?). But my students do not, and cannot, have that sort of experience, so must conduct research to find the kinds of TV shows that may be relevant to their analyses, and I require them to document their sources for any information that they find. [read more]

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Categories: Citing Sources, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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posted: 5.18.11 by Barclay Barrios

Sometimes I feel like plagiarism is some sort of irresolvable residue, built into the system of writing programs like a haunting remainder. As Director of Writing Programs at my school, every case of suspected plagiarism in the English department’s writing classes comes to me. We have a zero-tolerance policy in our program: any bit of plagiarism on any assignment at any time and we pursue charges of academic irregularity.

I stand behind that policy, mostly because in my experience as a teacher cutting any sort of “deal” with a student who has intentionally or unintentionally plagiarized always comes back to haunt me.

And yet.

This semester one of my strongest students—an international student—turned in work with sentences from sources woven into his text but not cited or acknowledged.  I should have pursued charges but used it as a teaching moment instead. Since this particular class is focused on researched writing, it gave us as a class a chance to discuss citation, paraphrase, and plagiarism; for that student, it was a second chance.

Still, I’m not sure how I feel about the disjuncture between my actions as an administrator and my actions as a teacher. How do you handle plagiarism?

Comments: (3)
Categories: Citing Sources
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100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing

posted: 9.30.09 by Traci Gardner

I have a new challenge for the next class of students I teach:

Buy one package of sticky notes. Any brand will do, but be sure that they are about 3″ square. There should be about 100 notes in the pad. They don’t need to be a name brand. Check the dollar store for cheap ones.

As you read texts for class this term, write your comments or questions on the sticky notes, along with the related page number, and add them to the book. During the term, I want you to use the entire pad of sticky notes.

Sound like busy work? It’s anything but. Take a look at “Added Bonus—Writing a Reader’s Response Journal Entry” from the Scholastic Classroom Solutions blog. I know. It’s an entry from a 3–5 teacher. Stay with me. Take a look at what she’s having students do.

Students write their reader response reflections and analysis on sticky notes and then adhere them to the page that the comment applies to. The journal questions that Victoria Jasztal, the teacher-blogger, uses could work with students at any level, with some slight changes to make the task age-appropriate, or you could use your own journal questions with this technique. Later, Jasztal shares a journal entry that a student might write after writing their sticky notes.

My hunch is that you’re asking why go through all this trouble. If students bought their own books, couldn’t they just underline and make comments in the margin? Sure, they could. But there are some real benefits that I’d like to point out for using sticky notes.

Perhaps the most obvious argument for the technique is that there are times when students can’t or don’t want to write in the books that they are using. The student might have a book from the library for a research project. Perhaps the student has borrowed a book from a roommate. Maybe the student just doesn’t like the idea of writing in books. Sticky notes seem like the perfect solution for all these situations. That’s only the beginning of why this is a great technique for the writing classroom, though.

The size of the sticky notes encourages students to focus on concise, concentrated comments. I suggest either the 3″ square notes or, at most, the 3″ by 5″ rectangular notes. Anything other than the little flags will probably work though. On a 3″ square note, most students can write at least one full sentence. The notes are for their own use, so abbreviations and shortcuts are fine. As long as they can read their notes later, spelling and mechanics don’t really matter. Compare the short comments to the kind of concentrated comments people post on Twitter and in Facebook status updates. The kind of commentary should be familiar to most students. The goal is to ask them to apply that kind of writing to the texts that they are reading in class.

Once students begin using the technique, the sticky notes can improve class discussion. Ask students to point to a passage that stood out in a reading and you often get blank stares. Who remembers that the third paragraph on page 345 was confusing? Underlined text and margin notes might help, but sticky notes poking from the edges of the book make this task easy. The same things works in reverse, of course. If you point the class to a specific passage, you can ask who has a note on the page. Depending upon your classroom set-up, you may even be able to see whose books have notes on the page.

When it comes time for students to compose, the sticky notes can help writers point to supporting details. First, have students make sure that their sticky notes include the page number they relate to, so that they can return to the passages later. You might even urge them to be more specific by pointing to a paragraph number or sentence (e.g., sentence 2 in the second paragraph). Next, have students pull all notes out of the book and arrange them based on similarities. Depending upon the project, there could be piles based on different kinds of imagery, different characters in a story, different rhetorical techniques, and so forth. After notes are sorted, students can choose a topic based on the pile that is most interesting and that gives them enough support for their argument. Students can then place the notes on notebook paper and use them as a jot outline for the evidence to include in their paper. Remind students that they don’t need to use every sticky note, only those that relate to the paper topics they choose.

After writing a paper, students can use the sticky-note technique for peer review comments. Have students write their questions and comments on sticky notes and adhere them to the peer drafts. Since they are writing for other readers, remind them to avoid any unfamiliar abbreviations or shorthand. The sticky notes will give reviewers plenty of space to make their comments without marking up the original document. They can also be removed so that a second reader can comment on the same draft without seeing what other readers have said. Perhaps most importantly, the process applies the same critical thinking process to peer drafts that students apply to the every other text in class.

The technique can take students from first observations all the way to composing the final draft. It’s definitely not busy work. It encourages students to make critical connections to their readings, and, by nature of sticking their comments down, students are literally forced to connect their thoughts to specific passages in the texts. Once they understand this technique, students can easily use it in any class or subject area (as well as in the workplace). And my hunch is that when they use up that first pad of 100 sticky notes, they’ll get another pad.

Comments: (2)
Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Discussion, Drafting, Peer Review, Planning
Read All Traci Gardner

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Two Simple Tools to Test Copyright and Fair Use

posted: 9.3.09 by Traci Gardner

Copyright and fair use laws can be confusing to explain to students. I rounded up some resources earlier this year to help you discuss Intellectual Property Rights, but recently, I’ve found these two little tools from the Copyright Advisory Network that make the process even simpler to demonstrate to students:

Digital Slider

Digital Slider Screenshot

Just find the copyright information published in the front of a text and slide the red triangle in the Digital Slider to the right place. The tool will tell you whether the text is in copyright and whether you need to seek permission to use it in your own work. Simple and easy. If you can find the date of first publication, you can figure out whether the work is in copyright.

Exceptions for Educators

Exceptions for Instructors

That work you want to use in class falls under copyright, but you may still be able to use it. Answer the questions in the Exceptions for Educators tool and find out whether your purpose falls within fair use. Just answer some simple “yes” or “no” questions, and you’ll know!

These Flash resources still leave a good bit of thinking to the user. They help you make informed decisions, but they won’t make the decisions for you or the students you teach. That’s what I like about them. The user still has to decide what to do with the information the tools provide.

But that’s not what I think the best feature of the tools is. Copyright and fair use always seems so murky to me. I’m no law student — digging through the explanations of what does (and doesn’t) require permission always takes me out of my comfort zone. I’m never quite sure if there’s something I’m missing. For me, these two tools take some of the mystery out of figuring out copyright permissions. It really can be a fairly easy process if you have some basic information about the text you want to use. If the basic decision can be found on a simple slider, surely I can figure it out — and you and your students can too!

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Categories: Citing Sources, Research, Working with Sources
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Three Tutorials on Using Search Engines

posted: 7.20.09 by Traci Gardner

Most college students think they already know everything there is to know about using search engines. I’ve found, however, that while they can type a few words into Google or Yahoo, they need to learn a lot about more sophisticated search options and about how to sift through the results they get.

Google has announced a collection of resources that will make teaching these lessons a snap. You can either run through the three Search Education lessons yourself to brush up on your understanding of the search engine before leading class discussion or you can use the lesson materials, all created by Google Certified Teachers, as resources in your lessons themselves.

The “Summer 09 Edition” of the Google Teacher Newsletter describes what the lessons have to offer:

[Google Certified Teachers have] developed three modular lessons not specific to any discipline so you can mix and match what best fits your needs. And all of the lessons come with presentations which will help guide your classroom discussions. You’ll learn fundamentals of search (which includes judging the validity of sources), search techniques and practices (for more advanced searches), and features and functionality (to learn some neat tips and tricks).

While the lessons are far more scripted than most of us would use in the college classroom, there is plenty of stand-alone material that you can adapt and use in whatever way fits your teaching style. The lessons are broken into basic, intermediate, and advanced techniques, so you can easily find resources that will fit any classroom of students.

The lessons include great suggestions for extending the lessons as well. For instance, be sure to check out the list of hoax sites for students to practice on in the advanced Believe It or Not lesson.

Looking for more than the Google lessons offer? Check out Bedford/St. Martin’s Research and Documentation Online for additional classroom resources, including Tips for Evaluating Sources.

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Categories: Citing Sources, Finding Sources, Professional Development & Service, Research, Teaching with Technology
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5 ways I help students to work with quotation

posted: 6.15.07 by Barclay Barrios

When I teach expository writing I tend to spend a lot of time helping students use quotations effectively to support their arguments. Too often, students just sprinkle quotations throughout their text without providing any sense of how those pieces of text relate to their larger argument. I have a few strategies I use to get them to engage the text closely in ways that support what they want to say:

1. The Super Secret Formula
This activity is designed to help students build a paragraph that works with two authors in support of the paper’s argument. This exercise has to be one of the most successful activities I’ve ever created. Not only is it the one that seems to help students the most but it’s also the one that other teachers seem to bring into their classrooms the most often. The Super Secret Formula is:

Cl > I > Q1 > E > T > Q2 > Ce

Students start their paragraphs with “Cl,” a sentence that states the claim of the paragraph. Then, with “I,” they introduced a quotation from the first author, adding a sentenced that explains it (“E”). The next sentence makes a transition (“T”) to a quotation from a different author, “Q2.” Finally, students take a sentence or two to explain the connection between the two quotations (“Ce”) and how it supports the argument they’re making in the paper.

The concrete structure of a “formula” provides a good scaffolding for students to build a solid paragraph that works with quotation but the risk is, of course, that all their paragraphs will becomes (literally) formulaic. When I use this exercise in the classroom, I start by having groups use the formula to make a sample paragraph. Then I challenge groups to come up with other formulas for working with quotation.

2. Close Reading
Sometimes students have difficulty analyzing a quotation; pieces of text will be sprinkled through a paper seemingly with the assumption that their relationship to the argument is self-evident. Here’s an exercise that can help students with this problem. Ask students to write or type a quotation they want to work with. Then ask them to underline the key sentences or phrases of the quotation, the parts that they feel are most important for the point they’re trying to make. Then have them construct sentences that use these pieces of the quotation and that explain how they relate to their arguments.

3. Facts and Ideas
Quotations that only contain statements of fact provide little opportunity for analysis; quotations with ideas do. Bring in examples of each kind to class for discussion and then during peer review ask students to identify each quotation in the papers they’re reading as either fact or idea. This exercise will give them practice distinguishing between the two and will provide useful feedback for paper authors on what type of quotation they’re favoring.

4. Short and Long
Another problem students seem to have in working with quotation is choosing quotations of appropriate length: they might choose quotations that are too short and thus don’t provide enough support or they might choose very long quotations and then say little about them. Have students look through their drafts and determine the length of each quotation by noting how many typed lines it takes. They can use the resulting report to reflect on their tendencies with quotation: do they always use very short ones? Always use very long ones? After the exercise challenge students to use a variety of lengths in their papers.

5. Peer Review Boost
During peer review, ask students to suggest at least three quotations that could be added to support the paper. This exercise will encourage paper authors to use more quotation while helping peer editors to dig deeper into the text to locate quotations that can help the paper authors.

Comments: (5)
Categories: Citing Sources, Integrating sources, Peer Review
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What Is It About MLA?

posted: 6.14.07 by Barclay Barrios

What is it about MLA citation that makes it so impossible for students to learn?

Alternatively, what is it about me that makes me such a good learner (or is that “so anal-retentive” instead?)?

I gave the grad students a little MLA practice sheet. Nothing fancy, mind you. In fact, it was designed to just be the basics: citation with quotation, citation with quotation when author’s name used in the sentence, paraphrase, etc. I handed them the list of tasks at the end of class with a Starbucks gift card prize for the first student to email me the answers with no errors.

The gift card remains mine.

On some level I can understand. I think there’s something fundamentally unnatural about citation–it’s just not the way people think or write. When I’m able to step outside of my own geeky brain for a minute, I can see how alien the whole thing is. I imagine I would feel the way my students feel if I were in a chemistry class, dealing with notations and formulae. And yet, that’s the thing about formulae, right? I mean, they’re formulaic, which means you don’t have to think about it ’cause all you have to do is fill in the blanks. On the other hand, the formula only works if you know it.

Clearly, my grad students don’t know it yet. I got missing quotation marks, I got commas between the author and the page number, I got citations after a period, I got it all. Clearly we’ll be spending some more time on this in class, but I don’t know how else to explain it without making it dead dead boring. Anyone got some ideas?

I’m not fussy but perhaps I am fastidious. OCD? Nah. Anal? Perhaps. I’m not sure what it is in me that lets me learn how to do all this so correctly or maybe it’s better to say I’m not sure what it is in me that makes me learn how to do all this so correctly. Clearly, an issue for therapy and not for Bits. 😉

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Categories: Citing Sources, Classroom Challenges and Solutions
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Plagiarism: A Love Affair

posted: 6.5.07 by Barclay Barrios

Never have I seen a teacher more emotional, never have I been more emotional, than when dealing with a case of plagiarism. What’s up with that?

What I find so interesting, you see, is that the emotion (which can be at times almost overwhelming) seems to resonate not from some virtuous commitment to academic honor nor even from some deep sense of crime and punishment but, more often than not, from what I can only describe as love betrayed, as though you’ve not only found out your partner is having an affair but you learned it by catching her or him in flagrante delicto. There’s the same sense of injured trust. There’s the anger. There’s the thirst for revenge. When someone plagiarizes in my classroom–and the classrooms of many teachers I have worked with–it feels like, well, being cheated on.

That’s why there are two basic rules for plagiarism in my program. First, never confront a student before getting a second opinion. Taking the time to find that impartial observer–either me in my capacity as Director of Writing Programs or any other teacher you can find–allows time for the rush of emotions to subside. Plagiarism is serious, yes, but because of that very seriousness it is not something for rash action. In fact there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve taken a look at a suspected case and said “Well, I’m not really sure this is plagiarism, and here’s why.” That’s why getting that second opinion turns out to be so handy, all emotions aside.

The second rule is perhaps more controversial: never cut a deal with a plagiarist … you will only get burned in the end. Invariably, every time I’ve seen a teacher work out some compromise (“I’ll fail you for this assignment, but not the class” or “OK, I can see how you misunderstood our class discussion, but as long as you understand plagiarism fully now”) there’s some second act of academic dishonesty and hence some second act of betrayal, all the more painful. It may not always be a second case of plagiarism but always it comes back in some way to bite them on the a**. If your lover cheats on you, get a new lover ’cause cheaters don’t change. We have a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism in our program not because the crime is so heinous (though, clearly, it is) but only because nothing else seems to work.

You know there’s this god awful show called Cheaters. Suspicious partners have the show track their lovers and, invariably, they are shown video evidence of the cheating which leads directly into an emotional, sometimes violent, direct on-air confrontation. It’s not the kind of thing I want to see happening in a writing program.

And plagiarism is, I think, inevitable. For me, it’s an irresolvable remainder in the educational system–something that somehow the system itself produces by its very structure. To be sure, we do all we can in our program to prevent plagiarism. We have a detailed FAQ about academic dishonesty that’s discussed in class. After this discussion, students sign a statement acknowledging that they understand what plagiarism is. We avoid using assignments that are in our reader, since they’re being used at schools around the country. We create original standard sequences for new teachers each semester and all teachers are encouraged to write their own assignments. A monoculture, after all, presents the greatest risk.

Plagiarism? A love affair? Attack me, please. Tell me I’m way off base. Tell me I’m Jane Gallop reborn. Tell me I am wrong, wrong, wrong. But also tell me what to do. Tell me how you deal with the emotional charge of plagiarism. Tell me what you do to make sure that emotional trigger isn’t even there. And, if you’ve found the holy grail that diminishes (eliminates?) plagiarism, tell me that too.

Comments: (5)
Categories: Citing Sources, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Plagiarism, Readers, Teaching Advice
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Citing Error

posted: 3.21.07 by Barclay Barrios

Before a draft is due, ask students to proofread their essays for grammatical errors. If they find any, they should copy them to a new sheet, correct the errors, and then provide MLA citations for the pages of the handbook that support those corrections.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Proofreading/Editing, Punctuation & Mechanics, Revising
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Research on Research

posted: 3.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the material in the handbook on the research process and then have them expand this material by doing research on how research is done in their chosen discipline/field. Using interviews, reference books, articles, and the Internet, students could produce a short report that explains the citation system used in their field, the major methodologies, what counts as research, or what counts as evidence in that research.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Finding Sources, WAC/WID, Working with Sources
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