In The Schoolyard: Spring is the Perfect Time to Encourage Observation

We continue our series on outdoor education with another post from Herb Broda. Now that true spring weather is surely just around the corner, he gives us some ideas on how to encourage students to be more observant of nature around them.

IMG_4215Although change always occurs in nature, the shift from winter to spring is for me one of the greatest shows on earth! From a curricular standpoint, this amazing spectacle of renewal provides a great backdrop for teaching the critical skill of careful observation. The process skill of observation is integral to most content areas, including literacy, science, mathematics, the social sciences and the arts.

Now is a great time to think about how the dramatic change of seasons can be woven into your literacy curriculum. For example, observing the shift from winter to spring can be incorporated into many writing genres. Descriptive and expository writing are the most obvious, but journals and poetry are easily fueled by the changes seen in nature. Even narrative and persuasive writing can be sparked by close observation of changes outside.

Teachers repeatedly mention that a primary goal of outdoor learning is to make children more observant. Improved observation skills transfer outside of the classroom also. One teacher shared how a student burst into his classroom and said, “I saw tracks on my way to school today!” Although the child had probably passed tracks dozens of times before, a lesson about tracks on the schoolyard had made this child more alert even when he wasn’t in school.

Careful observation of seasonal changes is a great introduction to the study of phenology, which Webster defines as “periodic biological phenomena that are correlated with climatic conditions.” Observing changes and the conditions that surround transitions fosters strong observation skills, and also emphasizes the interconnectedness of the natural world. The USA National Phenology Network has an excellent website that includes resources and activities for fostering observation skills through the lens of phenology. I encourage you to take a look at their material.

With the low cost of digital cameras, students can use their observations to create scrapbooks, posters and phenology wheels with pictures that they have taken. By observing a small area closely over time students become amazingly adept at detecting even slight changes. Excitement erupted at one Pennsylvania school when students saw a tiny patch of grass emerge as the winter snow began to melt. In a world dominated by computer imagery and electronic beeps, how refreshing to have students thrilled to see a few blades of grass emerging from under the snow!

In Wisconsin, Georgia Gόmez-Ibáñez helps her students become better observers of nature by creating a “phenology wheel” with her students. Each year she has the students pick a spot where they stand and take a picture each month and arrange the pictures in a circle. She also has another wheel that is divided by month and students keep track of what they notice as seasons change. To guide the observations, she has a checklist that identifies characteristic changes that can be easily spotted in each season, such as certain plants and animals that are evident at various times.

If it’s still snowy in your area, go outside to look for “track stories” after a fresh snowfall. It’s great fun and encourages careful observation, attention to detail and speculation. Tracks after a snowfall can show evidence of animal homes, feeding patterns, and even signs of predator-prey interaction. Wisconsin teacher Matt Tiller takes advantage of the “thaw” that usually occurs in snowy areas, and has students look for the mazes of little tunnels that are uncovered when snow melts in an open field. Matt calls it looking for mouse condominiums. This great sign-of-life activity is based upon a description found in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

Take advantage of the enthusiasm that is sure to erupt as we emerge from a long winter and begin to see the reassuring signs of spring. Getting students to observe nature closely will never be easier or more rewarding!

Add comment March 27th, 2015

Now Online: Making Number Talks Matter

making-number-talks-matterCathy and Ruth have developed incredible knowledge of the best ways to teach Number Talks with students of all grade levels. That knowledge is packed into this highly readable book.
—Jo Boaler, from the Foreword to Making Number Talks Matter

Believing that mathematics is mostly about using procedures correctly, many students have learned to focus on getting the right answer, whether or not the process makes sense to them. As a result, they disengage and lose confidence in their reasoning.

In Making Number Talks Matter, veteran math educators Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker show you how to help students take back the authority of their own reasoning through this 15‑minute daily routine. With skillful facilitation, your students will reason mentally with numbers, develop a strong sense of the meaning of quantities and operations, and gain proficiency with mathematical practices.

Teachers who are new to Number Talks will find a solid introduction, guiding principles, and tips on how to set up the routine. And teachers of all experience levels will learn new ways to extend and enhance their practice, with multiple strategies for each of the arithmetic operations; sample problems; examples of discussions and how to record student thinking; and ideas for increasingly challenging problems—including fractions, decimals, and integers.

As your students come to know that they have mathematical ideas worth listening to, as they learn to defend their ways of knowing with sound mathematical arguments, and as they learn the value of listening to one another and building on the ideas of their peers, their view of mathematics will be transformed.

Preview the full text of Making Number Talks Matter online!

Add comment March 23rd, 2015

What they are saying about Stenhouse books

Here is a quick roundup of some recent reviews of Stenhouse titles.

Midwest Book Review found Grammar Matters to be “packed with resources on homophones, mentor texts and more,” placing the book by Lynne Dorfman and Dianne Dougherty on their January Education Shelf as “a ‘must’ for any teacher looking to blend basic grammar instruction with Common Core State Standards and lessons that ‘stick’.”

Read the full review

In January, they reviewed In Defense of Read-Aloud by Steven Layne, “a treatise in the field of literacy education that strongly supports reading aloud to children in grades K-12”, deeming it “highly recommended for professional and college library education shelves.”

Read the full review

After reading Intentional Talk by Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz, Donna Boucher, author of the Math Coach’s Corner blog, found “the vignettes are the true power of the book, because you feel as if you are actually in the classroom observing a master teacher at work.” She adds, “this is a book you will use as well as read. You can’t read a chapter and not have a new strategy to try in the classroom tomorrow!”

Read the full review

Writing coach Jeannine Atkins posts about “writing and stuff” in her blog “Views from a Window Seat”. Her recent review of 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner states “the warmth in this one comes both from Kate and the generous and hard-working people she gathers around. Readers will fold over pages or put down the book with a strong sense of yes-we-can”

Read the full review

In her MiddleWeb review, Linda Biondi calls Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary “an easy-to-read, use, and apply vocabulary toolkit that can revolutionize the teaching of vocabulary for all students”

Read the full review

In his blog “Russ on Reading”, Russ Walsh asserts that in Reading Wellness, “[Jan Miller] Burkins and [Kim] Yaris cut through all the Common Core standards gobbledy-gook to provide teachers with a clear eyed approach to bringing children to reading by developing both the skill and the will to read”

Read the full review


Add comment March 18th, 2015

Congratulations to Nancie Atwell

By Maureen Barbieri
Stenhouse Editor

A pitcher cries for water to carry

And a person for work that is real.”

Marge Piercy, ‘To Be of Use’

CONGRATS-NANCIE-800x500Sunday, March 15, 2015, for teachers around the world, a day that will live in grace, honor, and pride. Nancie Atwell of Edgecomb, Maine has won the first annual Global Teacher Award of one million dollars in recognition of her lifetime achievement as a classroom teacher. The competition attracted more than 5000 applicants from 107 countries. Ten finalists were flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for a conference in recognition of excellence in teaching.

Nancie will donate the entire prize to the school she founded, The Center for Teaching and Learning, in Edgecomb. As I watched the awards ceremony via live streaming on my computer, I was moved by various speakers’ memories of teachers who had been influential, teachers who had encouraged, listened, challenged, supported, and ultimately made a difference in their lives. Just by establishing such an award, which some are calling ‘The Nobel Prize for Teaching,’ the Varkey Foundation is honoring teachers everywhere, acknowledging that their work is profound, long-lasting, vital.

Surely Nancie is the quintessential teacher, the one who has touched not only the lives of thousands of students over the years, but also the lives of countless teachers who have come to the Center for Teaching and Learning as interns, who have heard her speak at conferences or studied with her on Martha’s Vineyard, and who have read her many professional books and articles. Her voice has been loud, clear, and compelling for as long as I can remember.

I first encountered Nancie’s work when I was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, taking a research course with Donald Graves. “Do I have a book for you,” he said, handing me three manuscript chapters of the first edition of In the Middle. I was an eighth grade English teacher, like Nancie, and when I read about her way of teaching, my heart started to pound, my throat closed, and chills ran up my spine. She wrote about passion, about loving books and poems the way some people love the ocean or the sunrise. She described the vulnerability of trying to write with candor. I knew beyond a doubt I must be in the right profession, if this is what teaching could be. While most teachers I knew used literature anthologies with prescribed questions at the end of each selection, or distributed multiple copies of the same district selected classical novel to every kid in the class, Nancie invited her students to choose their own books, and before long, they fell in love with reading.

Instead of dreary writing prompts asking everyone to write on the same topic, Nancie’s kids ‘sat at the big desk’ and chose what they wanted to write about, both the subject and the genre. Nancie took her kids seriously. Their voices mattered to her. Their lives mattered – their fears, hopes, opinions, passions – all of it became the language arts curriculum. When In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning, came out in 1987, the one with the beautiful pink cover, I was thrilled. She wrote in such concrete detail that I, like legions of others, began to see how I could emulate her.

Nancie’s way of being a teacher shook me to the core. She saw teaching as intellectually rigorous, and told us this was why she loved it so. “When I found myself in the classroom,” she said, “I knew I was home.” She described her own very literate life of reading novels, essays, newspapers, educational journals, research articles, and, most beloved of all, poems. Her reading life informed her teaching, so she decided to set up her classroom to resemble a conversation around her dining room table, each reader encouraged to share reactions and perspectives, the way Nancie and her husband and friends did all the time.

She took her writing seriously too, sharing drafts with her students and showing them how she made decisions as a writer. In this way she reminded me of Donald Murray. Like him, she celebrated discovery in the act of writing, delighted in finding new insights. It was not surprising to learn that her students were embracing writing, entering and winning contests, and using writing in their lives in authentic ways – letters to the editor, poems as gifts to their moms, book and music reviews, advocacy essays – beyond the school walls. This is what I wanted for my students.

Besides learning how to teach from looking at her own reading and writing and from keeping up with research on the art of teaching, Nancie learned from her students. “The biggest lessons I’ve learned as a teacher,” she wrote, “I’ve learned from my kids.” If we paid close enough attention, she told us, the students would show us what they needed. She was the first classroom teacher I knew who did research right in her own classroom. Action research, it came to be called, and it was empowering. If Nancie could do this, then why not us?

When she received the David Russell Award for research at NCTE in 1990, she was characteristically generous, “By giving me this award,” she said, “you are saying to classroom teachers everywhere, your work counts as real research.” Surely on that day every teacher listening sat up a bit taller and felt a bit more determined to listen carefully in the classroom, so as to learn what it was our students needed from us.

She showed generations of teachers that we too could become part of the professional conversation. By taking the details of the craft to heart, she told us it was important to share our own observations and experiences and to be specific. Being a good teacher, she believed, meant knowing reading, writing, and literature, knowing adolescent development, and knowing the specific kids in front of us. Soon other teachers were submitting articles to professional journals and even writing books of our own. She was the mentor we needed, the teacher we were proud to stand beside, shoulder to shoulder, embracing workshop teaching. I thought of her every single day I was in the classroom and every single time I sat at the writing desk. How many authors who write about their teaching to this day would say the same?

In 1990 she decided to open her own school, The Center for Teaching and Learning, to work with other teachers and families to provide excellent education from the earliest days. Now a K-8 school, CTL is a happy place, where poetry and art grace every wall, where special attention has been paid to provide comfortable spaces for reading, writing, doing science experiments, and making music. Nancie and her colleagues welcome teachers from all of the country to stay for extended periods to observe, question, and discuss what happens there every day, taking back plans to reinvigorate their own curricula. With each new book she’s written, Nancie has shared the evolution of her thinking, moving towards more direct instruction and more structure. But her priorities remain clear: student choice, time in class to read and write, and authentic, ongoing response from the more experienced reader and writer, aka THE TEACHER. She shows us again and again, what it means to be literate, what it means to care about kids, what it means to learn.

“The days that make us happy make us wise,” Nancie said in her acceptance remarks, “The ten of us on this stage know this to be true.” Typically gracious, she expressed her admiration for the other nine finalists for the Global Teacher Prize. Looking at their faces, I could tell they share her passion, her energy, and her commitment. Knowing this gives me hope for children everywhere.

Congratulations, Nancie, and thank you for sharing your insight, your experiences, and your convictions. Thank you for all you have done over the decades to challenge us, support us, and lift us up. Thank you for making us better teachers, for reminding us, again and again, this is ‘work that is real.’

Add comment March 17th, 2015

Memories of Read-Aloud

We had an amazing time with all of you Wednesday night, chatting on Twitter with Steven Layne about read-aloud. It was clear that there was so much passion and appreciation for the art of read-aloud and for preserving this practice in all classrooms and in all grades. Here are some Tweet highlights, and you can see the — almost — full chat on Storify. It’s definitely worth a browse for all of the great book recommendations and for the warm memories everyone shared about what read-aloud meant for them.

Add comment March 13th, 2015

Live Twitter chat with Steven Layne

stevelayneTune in Wednesday, March 11, at 8 p.m. EST to talk about read aloud with Steven Layne! He will be on Twitter to answer your questions. The chat, hosted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp), will build on the following questions:

  • Share some of what you remember about being read aloud to as a kid.
  • What makes a great read aloud?
  • How do you know a read aloud is effective?
  • What makes a read aloud flop?
  • What are some things you think about as you plan for a read aloud?
  • Please share some of your favorite books to read aloud.

Follow #readaloud to keep track of the conversation and join in with your own questions! We will raffle off 5 copies of Steve’s new book In Defense of Read-Aloud during the chat. Follow @stenhousepub to win! You can still order the book with code TWEET and receive 20% off plus free shipping!

See you on Wednesday on Twitter!

1 comment March 9th, 2015

A Brief Ode to Blank Paper

Prescriptive worksheets can often cheat children out of real thinking and understanding. Read how Tracy Zager encourages her own children to explore and communicate their mathematical thinking through writing—on simple blank paper. And then hop over to her blog to read how she continually makes math a  natural, fun, and important  part of her family’s conversation.  

A Brief Ode to Blank Paper

Maya (7) brought home a folder full of completed math worksheets yesterday, which put me in a funk. First, there was the bugs problem.

IMAG3939-1I couldn’t decide which part of this problem bothered me most. Was it the ridiculous premise? I mean, come on. Was it that the problem was, yet again, a multiple-choice question? Was it the stubborn insistence on drawing bugs with the wrong number of legs? Was it that students have no room to work, but the publisher took plenty of room for cutesie drawings? Harumph.

As awful as the bugs problem was, the page that really upset me was this one:

IMAG3936Sigh. A few issues:

  • The strategies are named wrong, and made to look more complicated than they are.
  • There are better and other ways to solve this problem.
  • Students are left with 2″ to do math on this entire page, which is barely enough room to do the standard algorithm. There’s no chance they’ll try out one of the other strategies with no space to work.
  • Once again, we’re turning useful, general computation strategies into prescriptive algorithms. Breaking the numbers up by place value and adding the partial sums becomes: Step 1) Add hundreds…

I’m not the first math teacher to notice that prescriptive worksheets are a problem. Kamii, the CGI group, and others have all written about it. Yesterday, though, I was upset as a parent because Maya has stellar, flexible mental math skills, and her instinct to think is being undermined by this curriculum. I asked her why she’d opted for the standard algorithm on all the problems, and she said, “Those other strategies are too confusing.” I covered up her solution to 597 + 122 and asked her to solve it mentally.

“Well, I’d give 3 to the 597 to make it 600. Then 600 + 122 is 722. I’d take the 3 back, so it’s 719.”

I did the same thing for 209 + 376:

“200 + 300 is 500. 500 + 70 is 570. 9 + 6 is 15. 570 + 15 is 585.”

I pointed to the top of the page and said, “You just used this strategy. You broke the numbers up into place value parts, and then added each part together, starting with the biggest part.”

Her jaw dropped.

And my mind clicked. She has made NO connection between the mental math strategies she uses with fluency and all this junk on the worksheets. The reason? She’s never been given the chance to record her own thinking at school.

I think I’ve decided what one of my bigger problems with this curriculum is: they never use blank paper. They never write 209 + 376 at the top of a big piece of paper and let kids have at it. The kids never get a chance to wrestle with keeping track of their thinking or figure out organizational strategies. All math problems are either on worksheets or educational technology. The kids just don’t write enough.

So now I know what to do with Maya at home. We’re going to spend some time with blank paper, where she has to work out how to write down what she does in her head. She needs to make mistakes, lose track, not be able to follow her own thinking, and then ultimately figure out ways that make sense. She needs to be able to write down her thinking so that she and her mathematical community can follow it. I’m on it.

Two hours later, after dinner, Daphne (5) got us started. Our dining room chairs have decorative nailheads, and the kids are forever running their fingers over them and counting them. Daphne said, “Someday, I’m going to get out a math journal and count all these nailheads and write it down so I know how many there are.” Before I knew it, she was off! Someday turned out to be right then. Both kids got in the game.


Daphne was incredibly excited to count AND write down her results. Check them out:

IMAG3950-1If you want to understand her notation, take a peek at the short videos:

The power of blank paper, baby.

Perhaps inspired by all of this discussion and my venting, Maya asked if she could get a piece of blank paper when she did her homework, which is truly a counter-cultural act with this curriculum. “Of course!” I nearly sang.


She created this number line and used it to solve the final problem.

IMAG3951When I asked her about it, I pointed out that she didn’t just answer the question by saying, “The red one.” She wrote about the problem more generally: “I used a number line and found that anything less than 350 would fit and 270 is less so red paint is less than 350!”

She said, “Well, when I wrote it myself I thought about it more.”

Precisely my point.


This post first appeared on Tracy’s  blog.

3 comments March 5th, 2015

Now Online: Teaching Arguments

teaching-argumentsMakes a powerful case for the teaching of rhetoric as an essential thread in the fabric of every child’s education…will resonate for every English teacher.
—Carol Jago, from the Foreword to Teaching Arguments

One of the most essential skills we can teach students is how to comprehend, analyze, and respond to arguments, taking into account the audience, occasion, and purpose. These skills open the door for all students—not just Advanced Placement—to rigorous academic texts, and will help them succeed in college and career.

In Teaching Arguments, Jennifer Fletcher gives you a firm grounding in rhetorical concepts, practical writing prompts, and engaging activities—such as the rhetorical précis, descriptive outlining, and the doubting and believing game—that will speed your students’ understanding of rhetorical skills and strategies.

Using an approach based on situational awareness and responsiveness instead of rules and formulas, Teaching Arguments helps you move your students beyond superficial responses to texts as they become better critical thinkers and communicators. The book is available now, and you can access the full-text preview online.

Add comment February 24th, 2015

Become a teacher who writes

This March will be the eighth time that the Two Writing Teachers blog will host its annual Slice of Life writing challenge. Blog founder and Stenhouse author Stacey Shubitz invites all teachers — and students — to make writing a priority and write every day for 31 days. In this guest post, Stacey talks about why it is important for teachers to also be writers and how the month-long challenge can help you overcome your fear of writing.

Become a teacher who writes
By Stacey Shubitz

I spent 2006 – 2007 doing action research in my fifth grade classroom. One of my greatest takeaways was that in order to teach writing well, one must be a teacher who is also a Writer.

Some teachers I’ve consulted with don’t think they’re good writers. They’re paralyzed with fear because somewhere along the way they were made to feel afraid of writing. When I hear this, I often tell teachers how I overcame my fear of driving since it is similar, in many ways, to the fear some teachers feel about writing.

I was a confident driver in high school. I got my license at 17 and drove 32 miles round trip to school each day of senior year. I went to college in Washington, DC, where it was impractical to keep a car. My driving was limited to school vacations only. Things were going along fine whenever I came home from college and needed to drive until I was in a car accident in 1998. I was the seat-belted front passenger and sustained a neck injury that still affects me today. As a result, I stopped wanting to drive. I would defer to someone else to drive or I would take mass transit, even if the schedule was inconvenient. Upon graduation from college, I moved to Manhattan where I figured I’d live until I was old and gray. But then I fell in love a guy who got a job offer in Providence, RI. He proposed marriage. A little over a year later, I relocated from New York to Rhode Island. For the first time since high school, I had to drive a car again.

The guy I just referred to is Marc and he’s been my husband since 2007. When I moved to Rhode Island in July of that year, Marc bought me a present. It was a GPS and its sole purpose was to help me navigate so I could focus on safety and get over my fear of driving. When I set up the GPS, I selected the British male voice, who the company named Daniel. I chose Daniel because his voice soothing, which helped me every time I tensed up merging on to a highway. Initially, I pushed a button to avoid highways, which almost always sent me on a circuitous route. After realizing there were no shortcuts around the State of Rhode Island, I came to realize I’d have to dare to be the best driver I could possibly be. I’d have to be fierce, but cautious. I’d have to balance defensive driving with aggressiveness so I wouldn’t be run off of the road. If I was going to be independent, I’d have to overcome my fear of driving.

I once heard Mary Ehrenworth say “with risk comes beauty.” Sitting in the driver’s seat felt risky to me until driving took me to new places. Thanks to Daniel’s navigational prowess, I became a confident highway driver. Over time, I took myself on day trips to Narragansett, Newport, and Boston. Nearly eight years later, I drive long distances by myself. I split the driving with my husband on road trips. And even though there are still some things that scare me about driving (e.g., rush hour traffic in Manhattan), I am now confident enough to drive on I-81 next to all of the trucks every single day. Overcoming my fear of driving was essential to my independence.

If I could get over my fear of driving and become a driver, then you can overcome any discomfort you may have about writing to become a Writer. The only thing standing in your way of you becoming a Writer is you. If you tell yourself it will take time to get comfortable putting words on the page, you can be a Writer. If you tell yourself you can positively impact the lives of your students by writing regularly, you can be a Writer. If you tell yourself you will shut down the voices in your head that tell you you’re not talented enough, you can be a Writer. It takes time and practice, but everyone can become a great Writer.

Once you come to believe the world will be a better place if your voice is part of it, then the next thing you must do in order to become a Writer is to make writing daily a priority. I know it’s hard to fit yet another thing into an already jam-packed schedule. I have blogged about ways to create a writing life that is both consistent and meaningful.

If you’re still unsure about whether you can envision yourself as a Writer, I encourage you to try out slice of life writing. Slice of life stories are anecdotal pieces of writing about a small part of one’s day. It’s usually written in the first person.

Image 1

The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who wanted to write daily. Over the years, the Challenge created a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops daily. Teachers are invited to write a slice of life story on their own blog and then share the link to their story on our blog’s call for slice of life stories. Then, each person who leaves a link to their blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice of life writing.

I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm in classrooms where students and teachers are writing alongside each other. Recently I asked our blog readers how their instruction has been impacted by being a Writer. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

Image 2 - Slicer Comments #sol15

Like these teachers, I believe being a Writer is the single most important gift I ever gave my students. Being a teacher and a Writer means you can confer with your students and feel a special kind of camaraderie. Being a teacher and a Writer means you understand the struggles and frustrations as well as the triumphs and the beauty. Being a teacher and a Writer means you will transform your students’ lives because you believe in the power of words. It is my hope all children who take part in writing workshops will have teachers who are also Writers.

I hope you’ll join us for the 8th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge this March. Click here for more information.

6 comments February 19th, 2015

Citation as Fashion: Do You Really Need Those Page Numbers?

We are happy to have Sarah Cooper back on our blog with a post about those pesky citations at the end of a research paper. Are they important? Why are they important? She breaks it down for us with some useful tools and advice. Sarah is the author of Making History Mine.

Cooper author photo bigger resolutionCitation as Fashion: Do You Really Need Those Page Numbers?

By Sarah Cooper

I like to be able to justify to myself and my students why I’m teaching what we’re learning.

Usually in history it’s easy: relate past to present, analyze a relevant ethical issue, tell a story that makes people pop to life.

But last week it wasn’t easy. The eighth graders were spending two days in the library to find sources and write a Works Cited list.

The assignment: to write a paragraph about an issue related to their service projects in science, such as strategies for teaching children with Down syndrome or the environmental value of biking over driving.

The topics were meaningful and the sources strong. I had no problem rationalizing the assignment until the third day, when I helped students with their paragraphs and also checked their Works Cited lists.

The eighth graders had used NoodleTools, a research program I love, to create their bibliographies. As with EasyBib, BibMe, and other citation sites, NoodleTools asks for all the relevant information and then creates a bibliographic citation in the right format. The program also goes one step beyond to alphabetize, double-space and indent.

Walking around in the computer lab, looking over students’ shoulders, I compiled a list of common fixes for their Works Cited pages.

See if you can figure out which one was hard to justify for me:

1. Include the article title as well as the publication title.

This is necessary information to find the source again, and students definitely need to list it.

2. Indicate that an electronic source was found on a database rather than in print.

This makes sense because I’d like students to appreciate the plethora of online sources available.

3. List the volume and issue numbers for scholarly journals.

This is a little more esoteric but okay. I would like students to understand that journals are almost like books in how seriously they organize themselves and how closely they track their topics.

4. Include the page numbers for newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals found in online databases such as ProQuest Research Library.

What the heck?!

After asking at least half the students to go back and add the page numbers from the original database source – not the page numbers of the their printed-out pages, but those from the actual journal or magazine, as listed in the citation on the database – I started to feel sheepish.

Why am I asking students to cite page numbers for print publications that they will never see, that 99% of the people citing their articles will never see, and that almost didn’t exist to begin with since the publication is almost always accessed online?

After sleeping on and wrestling with this page numbers issue (you can see I really don’t like having my students do work that doesn’t make sense!), I came to this conclusion:

Including the page numbers in your MLA citation of an online source is like ironing your shirt before you go to a job interview. It’s like putting on earrings to match your necklace. It’s like knotting your tie tightly.

Citation as fashion.

Citation as window-dressing.

Citation as dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s so that no one faults you for not knowing the rules – so that they can be impressed by your unwrinkled collar and pay attention to what you are saying instead of what you’re not wearing.

Helping my students make the right impression on future teachers, professors and employers by sweating the details – this I can justify.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook relegates page numbers to the same dustbin where the now-optional URLs lie.

Which citation details do you care about? Why do you care?

2 comments February 16th, 2015

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