Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Teaching Citing: The Importance of Individual Attention

This month I spent a lot of time assessing some of what I teach the kids. I haven't done a lot of this in the past, and I am seeing the the fruits of my labor now. Believe me, it has been a lot of new work. But it is so worth it! Here is an overview:

 A teacher asked me to grade some of her works cited sheets from her seniors, and while grading I realized we were failing in how we were trying to teach them how to cite using NoodleTools. Maybe failing is too strong a word.. Some students did well, some didn't, either because they didn't put in the effort, or they didn't know how. They also didn't know I'd be grading it, so senioritis could be part of the problem.

In response, I changed tactics this year with how I teach citing to 9th graders. It is now much more individual in approach. As we embarked on our third project of the year, I did show them briefly how to cite reprinted articles - the last new piece of citing we do as a group. But instead of spending a lot of time on it, I made some quick citing videos: What is a Reprint and How to Cite it, and How to Cite from Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Then, as I did in two other projects this year, I gave them individual feedback online in NoodleTools to their working bibliographies.  I told them if their sites weren't academic, I told them if they didn't understand how to cite the items. I gave them feedback online, and met with several individually either on their free time or in class "workshops" where they could work at their own pace and ask either me or their teacher for help. Then I had them turn in a paper works cited to me and I graded the 120 works cited lists using a rubric which included citing skills from our few years together.

The kids enjoyed this new approach and individualized instruction. Who wants to listen to a lesson about citing or do citations in the abstract? They need to know it when they need it, and I need to be there for them. They have to know when to ask for help - and what to ask. I got to know many of them much better, and I feel like they trust me and know I care about them. They know citing is not exciting, but they also know it is one of my responsibilities to help them understand why and how  to do it. I am excited to see how their skills last as they continue in the upper school. Will their lists of Works Cited be as dismal as the ones I graded from our seniors? Or will this new "worshop" approach work better for them?

I am also in the midst of grading 10th grade blogs. Each 10th grader made blogs during a UN Simulation activity, and I am part of the grading team. I just make sure they are citing quality sources and using proper Creative Commons images on their blogs, with appropriate captions. The tenth graders with more research and Creative Commons experience are doing better than the others, demonstrating that practicing information literacy and digital ethics helps you over time.

An interesting side observation:
The most important part of citing is knowing what you are looking at and trying to cite. For the first time this year I had several students think they had the paper copy of a newspaper article for example, because they had printed it out. So they chose print, when actually they were citing a database newspaper article. Interesting.. I long for the day when none of this will matter anymore.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with your citation workshop. Like you, I long for the day when trying to determine if something is print or digital or a magazine or journal no longer matters. Sure, it all makes sense to me, but it's foreign for kids growing up digital (as cliche as that may sound).

    My last round of student researchers seemed to spend more time worrying about the format of their citations than they did about their ideas, and that worries me. I'm not trying to say that citing sources and giving credit to other thinkers isn't important, but the more I think about it, the less important MLA, APA, etc. seems. These citation styles almost seem archaic. Sure they'll use these styles in college, but then there's a lot of obsolete tradition in higher ed.

    I'm feel unsettled by the traditional research paper and bibliography. I'm trying to sort out the source of the friction.

    Again, thanks for sharing this. You're right about no one wanting to do citations in abstract. One-on-one is where it makes the most sense.

  2. Melanie, thanks for the comment.
    I still think the traditional paper is important, but as one type of research project among many during a school year. I'm trying to get everyone to understand it in 9th grade so I don't have to focus on ti anymore in high school, but rather check in with them periodically about it. this was an experiment year - should be interesting. But like algebra, if they don't do it enough, they forget how.