March 10, 2008

Well, That Didn't Stick

A few weeks ago I review citing sources with my students. It was kind of in the middle of everything, but their social studies teacher asked me to do it. Now the students are knee deep in a team-supported project. They need that citing sources information for my class and for their foreign language classes. It's just not going away. I know I told them that.

Today their foreign language teachers collected bibliographies from the students. It's still early in the process of the project, but I love the idea that the teachers are asking to see a bibliography now--an annotated one at that! Asking to see the bibliography now is an excellent checkpoint to see if students are staying on track.

Unfortunately, the majority of their bibliographies were, uh, poorly presented. That's politely said, by the way. I KNOW I told them that a simply cutting and pasting a URL does not a bibliography make. Obviously, what I taught them didn't stick, and I'm blaming myself a lot. It was a pretty quick lesson where I told them the basic information they needed to collect. My point to them is that they don't need to memorize the formats for bibliography entries. They need to keep in mind the basic information needed and then look up how exactly to do it online and/or use a citation machine.

It's not rocket science. Use the examples. Plug in your information. Use a citation machine and let it do the formatting for you if using models is too hard.

Am I wrong to spend so little time on this? When I was in middle school, I remember having to do practice worksheets where, using a list of sources, I had to format each one and create a bibliography page. Is this what I should have done with my students? Being able to write a bibliography is not something students will need to use on a daily basis. Am I wrong in treating this like something they should simply to able to look up? I know there are purists who would say that using a citation machine is cheating, probably much like using a calculator is cheating. It just seems like in our modern world, there are things students need to know, and then there are things students need to be able to reference.

I may have had drill and kill worksheets when I was middle school, but I didn't remember any of it. I still had to look up the specifics on creating a bibliography in a book.

When I was in middle school, I also learned these useful skills that are pretty pointless now:

  • diagramming sentences--months and months of this during 7th grade
  • setting margins on a typewriter
  • centering a title on a line while using a typewriter--it used to take a lot of math knowledge to format a document
  • cutting a whole chicken into recognizable pieces (Home Ec--a required class for all students!)
  • converting American measurements to metric because it would soon be important
  • Using a Reader's Guide
I wish my students could understand where I'm coming from on this. They wouldn't get my examples, but I know some of my fellow bloggers do. I don't want to waste their time practicing creating bibliographies because in the bigger picture of life, it is seriously something they...can...look...up! I'd rather they spend their time evaluating the quality of their sources before choosing to use them. That's a higher-level thinking life skill that deserves some attention. That's something I didn't have to worry about as much when I was their age. Mostly, if it was published, and it fit with our subject, we could count on a printed sources having validity.

So what should I do next? It disappointing that my students have laptop computers with wireless connections at school that allow them to access any kind of resource they could possibly need. I showed them how to use their computers as tools to get a basic job done. And they didn't. Do I need to go old school and bring out the practice worksheets on bibliographies?

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