An organic approach to citation skills

I’d like to thank David Wee for providing an unbeatable segue into my own blog post this month – introducing MLA bibliographies in the sixth grade. At my own institution this has grown rather organically rather than as an objective goal to be met, so I’ll include a little background info here to set the stage:

My official title here is Upper School Librarian. But we are a 6-12 campus, so I minister to middle school students too as much as I am able, but the parameters within which I work have often restricted how much time we could spend together, a topic I have broached before on this blog. In addition, a library skills curriculum had not been built into the program I inherited from my predecessor, so teachers were not used to scheduling me into their classes, and the assignments they gave didn’t necessarily rely on research very often.

Something changed this year in ways I can’t really quantify, and I don’t want to for fear that whatever fairy has been the guiding hand behind all this will flit away. In real terms I was assigned to be a sixth grade adviser, which simply gave me more face time with the middle school, but other aspects have been more like a lovely alchemy in which reactions just happen and then build on each other. One day the Latin teacher asked me to deliver books about ancient Rome for a blog project, so I talked with the kids about how to look at tables of contents and index pages. Then the history teacher heard how well that went and asked me to do the same for her, so I took the kids to where the e-books live and we explored those. Seeing my chance, I offered to return the next week and show them how to cite them and create a bibliography, so we did that, and then we did some more. Then the science teacher cautiously approached and asked if I would possibly consider helping her with a volcano project. “WOULD I?” I know all of you are saying to yourselves. Try and stop me!

Along the way I taught them not only how to insert in-text citations, but why. Not just to prove you’re not a plagiarist, I told them, but because you are doing important research work and some secondary reader (as in, not me or your teacher) might want to know exactly where you got that fact so he or she can read it firsthand. As well, we worked on creating MLA Works Cited pages for their projects; again, I told them, so that another reader could find the exact book or article and read it for himself. Understanding that they were creating something of real value that another person might someday read was very illuminating, and they worked hard on making their bibliographies as thorough and accurate as possible.

I’m sure all of you can attest to how much repetition an effort like this will take, but if we start in the sixth grade, by ninth grade it will be second nature and by graduation we’ll have them doing in-text citations when they sign yearbooks, right?

2 thoughts on “An organic approach to citation skills

  1. Halleluiah!
    “Not just to prove you’re not a plagiarist, I told them, but because you are doing important research work and some secondary reader (as in, not me or your teacher) might want to know exactly where you got that fact so he or she can read it firsthand.”
    I think many librarians would like to reframe citations as giving credit rather than proving against plagiarism. We are hoping that students are using the ideas of credible authors to shape their own ideas. Ideally their work is important enough that we as readers and graders might want to revisit their sources. Some of my Upper Schoolers have seen this firsthand when they pass annotated bibs to students completing similar projects at a later time.

  2. I always tell our students to be sure to include proper citation so their teachers will know how much quality work was done for the project. Students want to show what great sources they found and used.

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