At Overlake, we have been using NoodleTools citation-building software for years. I am fortunate enough at this point to have several English, Social Studies, and (sometimes) Science teachers invite me to help with project research, including NoodleTools citations. Before the year’s first project, I refresh students’ memories on how NoodleTools works. Depending on teacher preference, I teach a traditional lesson, or kids watch a series of screencasts I put together, with me and a library colleague in the classroom to answer questions. We use MLA in the Middle School, at “starter” or “junior” level. Prior to any research, I set up a “project inbox” in NoodleTools; during the lesson, kids connect their projects to the inbox, so I can see and comment on citations.
For grading citations, I offer teachers two options. The easier option—for me and the students—is for me to look through the citations, commenting only if I spot an unreliable or otherwise questionable resource (outdated, biased, etc.), or if the citation lacks significant information, like titles or working URLs. I use database software (Microsoft Access) to track how many sources a student lists, the quality of those sources, and whether the citation needs significant fixes. Throughout the project, I check citations several times and update teachers on their students’ progress.
For the second option, I hone in on the details that make a well-executed citation, and comment on every citation. I let students know exactly what changes they need to make, and keep track of those changes. In my database, a list of changes could look like: sourcex1, cpx2, titlex1, datex3, which would tell me that a student needs to correct one source type, find two database citations to copy and paste, fix or add a title, and add or correct three dates. We allow students to copy and paste database citations rather than enter those field by field, as such citations can get complicated and the students are only 10-12 years old! A citation with three or more errors I note as “maj” rather than enter changes type by type. This saves me time, and ensures I don’t ding any citation for more than three errors.
When grading the citations, I devised a rubric based on a project requiring at least three sources. I can adjust the rubric if a teacher requires additional sources. I grade on three aspects of a project: number of sources, quality of sources, and number of changes needed. Here are my rubrics.
Number of Sources Grading points
Images other than infographics do not count as sources, and I do not give detailed comments on image citations unless I see major errors.
Quality of Sources Grading Points
|No sources/3+ questionable sources||–||0|
|2 Questionable sources||√-||2|
|1 questionable source||√||4|
Questionable sources: Sites deemed unreliable due to mis/disinformation, outdated information, bias, no information on author/sources used, etc.
Quality sources: Books, databases, pre-approved websites, websites from well-known companies, websites approved by a teacher or librarian
Number of Changes Needed Grading Points
I translate the students’ points into a percentage for the teacher, who can weigh it in their assignment as they choose. As 100% for a project requiring three sources translates into 18 points, I wrote out an equivalency chart so I wouldn’t have to calculate every time. Students with more than the required number of sources often earn over 100%.
Percentages out of 18
Here is a screenshot of a fully graded project list in Access (I have deliberately cut off the students’ names):
Writing comments on every citation, multiple times throughout a project, takes a long time! I recently decided to write detailed comments for up to ten citations per student, and beyond that will just check for reliability and major errors. I made that decision after a 5th grade assignment in which many students, required to find three sources, cited upwards of 10, 20, even 30 sources! I applaud their diligence and enthusiasm, but really, enough is enough. 😊
Our current goal is for me to give detailed comments to 5th graders on one assignment each year, 6th graders on two, and 7th graders on three. I feel so fortunate to have teachers willing to work with me, and I like to think I’m taking at least part of the onerous job of grading off their shoulders!