Thursday, September 16, 2010

SparkNotes, CliffsNotes -- Blessing or Curse?

I guess one's attitude about these "study guides" depends on whether you're a student or in the "other" category. Our teen was having trouble keeping the characters in a play straight, so she went to SparkNotes for a refresher. I knew she'd read the play, and I am all for using the resources available, and yet...

Then this morning, I read a professor's review of the major study guides students use today.

So that got me wondering what educators think about them. I was somewhat surprised that a few years ago the guides were a topic in a forum for teachers. Several seemed to acknowledge the guides as facts of life. Others tried to make sure they were testing and asking questions that could not be found at these sites.

My take: if the student has read the assigned book, the guides may help in studying or reviewing specific sections of a novel that may have seemed convoluted. As SparksNotes online copy says, "When your books and teachers don't make sense, we do." Well, maybe.

But don't get me started on a site called GradeSaver, which sells 2,715 literature essays. So that the student can copy them directly and get expelled? Or are they meant to serve as online muse, and no more?


  1. Sparknotes have really helped me study review in the past for lit class.

  2. Sara, might not have realized they could be helpful (rather than a sort of a cheat)if you hadn't helped me see the light.


  3. I often recommend that my students use a commercaially-produced study guide and stress that they must use it the RIGHT way - as a guide, not as a substitute for reading the original text. It can be a helpful review and can assist struggling readers by enabling them to see right away what they may have missed (or misinterpreted) while reading. I usually suggest that a student read the original text and then read through the study guide for a particular chapter or section. However, for very difficult reading (Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales, etc.) I recommend that students read the synopsis first and then the original to aid comprehension.