Parental guidance: Teachers weigh in on SparkNotes

Teachers weigh in on SparkNotes.

Teachers weigh in on SparkNotes. (Credit: iStock)

Q. My daughter says "everyone" in her English class uses online sources such as SparkNotes to enhance understanding of assigned books. When I was in school, using CliffsNotes was considered cheating, even if the book was read. Is using SparkNotes cheating?

A. English teachers consider it unacceptable for students to use SparkNotes in place of reading a text, and they even discourage SparkNotes and other condensed versions of books to supplement assigned reading, says Tim Ryley, an English teacher at Baldwin Senior High, and Beverly Wolcott, director of English Language Arts at Uniondale High.

If a student is confused, teachers prefer she challenge herself to understand the subtleties and nuances of the text and that she go to extra help sessions to ask the teacher. If a student does use a Web resource such as SparkNotes, it should be as a secondary resource, Wolcott says.


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Using SparkNotes, however, isn't cheating, Ryley says. "It's not cheating in the academic sense. It's cheating in the intellectual sense. The problem is when a student just uses the SparkNotes, he or she is cheating himself out of what the book has to offer."

SparkNotes general manager John Crowther agrees teachers should be the first line of support. But SparkNotes can be there when a teacher can't. "Literature is the only subject in which books students are assigned weren't written just for them," he says. SparkNotes can alleviate anxiety by reinforcing comprehension, he says.

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