You are a freshman in high school and your English teacher has just assigned your class Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As your teacher hands you the book, you think to yourself, “This will be a piece of cake. How difficult could it be to understand the most famous tragedy of two star-crossed lovers?”
However, the moment you delve into the play your mind arrives at a state of complete and utter confusion. Not only do you and your fellow classmates struggle to comprehend Shakespeare’s language throughout the play, but you are puzzled by the intense, binding relationship formed between two teenagers based on love at first sight.
Regardless of the fact that your teacher reads the play aloud during class, comprehension of the story’s plot and diction remains a challenge for you and your classmates. As a result, you spend your in-class reading time with a wistful expression on your face, wishing that you had a secondary source at your dispense that would allow you to not only understand Romeo and Juliet but to actually enjoy it.
Although teachers frown upon the use of SparkNotes for reading assignments, SparkNotes is an effective secondary source because it provides supplemental study guides, and helps students fully understand these assignments.
First of all, many teachers antagonize SparkNotes because they believe that their students read the online plot overviews and chapter summaries instead of the books assigned to them.
SparkNotes is a secondary source that provides study guides via website or books for various literary works and is not by any means a substitute for reading the works themselves. In the creation of the website, SparkNotes, was previously known as TheSpark. its founders changed it from a web-based dating service to an online academic resource to attract students, once they recognized that TheSpark’s user base consisted of mostly high school and college students. As a result, they created SparkNotes in 1999 as an “online version of literary study guides.”
In their mission statement, the creators of SparkNotes state, “As SparkNotes editors, our mission is to help you make sense of confusing schoolwork. We work with experts to create books, blogs, quizzes, and flashcards that will help you master the hard material.”
Although some students may rely only on the website, many students read SparkNotes’ chapter summaries, character lists, and plot overviews relating to their novel, before actually opening their book to provide themselves with background information about the novel.
Not only does this approach to the use of secondary sources foster an early understanding of the novel, it also prevents students from falling behind on their reading schedule, therefore creating a more enjoyable literary journey from the start. Considering the fact that well-known scholars around the world use secondary sources, isn’t it elitist to condemn the use of SparkNotes as wrong?
Many English teachers and students share the common belief that if other students need to consult secondary sources in order to gain a better understanding of a novel, then they are not studious, nor do they belong in the class.
In addition, students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors courses at Miramonte utilize SparkNotes study guides along with The Princeton Review AP books, Barron’s, Cliffs Notes, and many more. One student may be using The Princeton Review: Cracking the AP Calculus AB&BC Exams for the same purpose that another student may be using SparkNotes for Romeo and Juliet; utilizing a study guide to get a better understanding of their work, and to prepare for an exam.
On the contrary, if English teachers have faced repeated dilemmas where students substituted the reading of SparkNotes for reading the novel itself, then they have a right to feel irritated. Overall, SparkNotes is an effective and reliable secondary source if students use it correctly.