News

SparkNotes and Wikipedia should be secondary sources, teachers say

Useful information can be found with due diligence

Illustration by Ben Jackson ’11 - SparkNotes and Wikipedia have become staple resources for students in search of information at Brophy.

By Colin M. Prenger ’11
THE ROUNDUP

When students are assigned a book for English class, some may turn to summary websites to alleviate the potential stress of a challenging and lengthy read.

Brophy’s English Department demands critical analysis of novels and high quality, detailed writing – which could explain why some turn to summary websites.

“Our kids here are heavily involved and are being pulled in different directions, and I think sometimes it is a way to reduce stress by taking the path of least resistance,” said English Department Chair Mr. Scott Middlemist ’87 about why he thinks students turn to summary notes.

However, SparkNotes has positive aspects in that it can provide a clarification of challenging works of literature.

“For instance, I recommend that my students read a plot synopsis of a Shakespeare play so that they have background knowledge prior to their reading the actual text,” said English teacher Mr. Steve Smith ’96. “I think they help because the language is so different.”

Mr. Middlemist said he also believes that SparkNotes should be “used to solidify a plotline and key elements in a story” if something needs further clarification or review.

SparkNotes and websites similar to it should not be heavily relied on, according to Mr. Middlemist, but rather used as a secondary resource to further general knowledge about a literary work.

English teacher Mr. John Damaso ’97 said he thinks that SparkNotes takes away the “communicative aspect” of reading.

Talking about a piece of literature is one facet Mr. Damaso said is lost when one reads Spark Notes because the student sits and reads a few pages of summaries rather than talking to peers about the story.

As for Wikipedia, neither Mr. Middlemist nor Mr. Damaso completely discourage the use of the website.

Mr. Damaso said that Wikipedia is a great entry point into research.

He said he encourages students to start there because of the links at the bottom of Wiki pages that lead to other sources.

However, Mr. Middlemist cautioned against stopping research at the Wikipedia page.

“Using Wikipedia as a primary source … is going to lead you towards an academic path where you are only getting a surface understanding of what you are reading,” he said.