I have always found the concept of SparkNotes very interesting. At times it can be very helpful, but I also can’t help frustrated when dealing with SparkNotes and my future profession as a teacher. As a future teacher, I am definitely a part of this activity system, along with other teachers and students. As a future teacher, I have goals for my students. Obviously I want them to gain knowledge and understanding for the literature and be able to take something away from the unit. Some of my future students may not care much about the bigger, but rather are concerned with getting a decent grade and moving from the class. In the classroom, students substitute one material for another because they believe them to be equivalent. They use site in place of the novel and read it to just gain enough of information to get a good grade or pass a test, but what are they missing when they do this? Just with the time I have spent with my current students during my field experience at Central High School, I can tell that SparkNotes is a big aid for most students. It is obvious though that some students abuse this source.
There are some beneficial reasons for students to use SparkNotes. For example, it can be a good aid to refer to as the student is reading the actual or assigned text. When doing this, it can be used to gain of better/deeper understanding for the text. SparkNotes can be more reader friendly. It gets to the point, in simple language, cutting out detail, and giving the reader the main points.
On the other hand, there are some negatives. What are students missing when they pick SparkNotes over the whole text? When looking at the section below and comparing that to the section in the novel, there are some dramatic differences. The biggest difference being that this one paragraph section is “equivalent” to 6 pages in the novel. When looking at that fact alone, you know some of the details are being cut out. For example, dialog is completely cut out in the SparkNotes summary, along with some major plot point. One of the plot points that you don’t get from reading this section of SparkNotes is the dynamic between Elizabeth, Caroline, and Darcy. In the novel, the reader learns that Caroline Bingley really doesn't like Elizabeth because Caroline has feelings for Darcy and she can tell that Darcy has feelings for Elizabeth. This is a complicated love triangle and it built throughout the novel and yet we get no explanation of in the SparkNotes section. Now although this may seem like a small detail, Caroline becomes a bit of the antagonist and this would be important for the students to identify. Without her role in the story, there would be far less conflict and no explanation as to why Darcy and Elizabeth have the relationship they do.
“That night, while Elizabeth visits Jane, the Bingley sisters poke fun at the Bennett’s. Darcy and Mr. Bingley defend them, though Darcy concedes, first, that he would not want his sister ever to go out on such a walking expedition and, second, that the Bennets’ lack of wealth and family make them poor marriage prospects. When Elizabeth returns to the room, the discussion turns to Darcy’s library at his ancestral home of Pemberley and then to Darcy’s opinions on what constitutes an “accomplished woman.” After he and Bingley list the attributes that such a woman would possess, Elizabeth declares that she “never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united, and implying that Darcy is far too demanding.”
Although the section from SparkNotes is written in more of a plain style than the original text, there are still elements of the official style. I believe that the website does this to establish some type of credibility. If the site was in “too plain” of style, I believe people would be far less likely to use the site as often as they do. For example, sentences in the above section like “Darcy’s opinions on what constitutes an accomplished woman” or “Bingley list the attributes that such a woman would possess.” These sentences could be put in even more of a plainer form, yet they keep a sense of formality. Also, there are different types of sentence combining strategies that are used that also add an element of the official style.
Overall I think that SparkNotes is a good resource for students to use as an aid, but there is no way to make sure that students aren't using it as a complete substitution. Although it would probably be very difficult for teacher to make it impossible for students to do well on quizzes, assignments, or exams just from using SparkNotes, they can try. For example, a teacher can look at SparkNotes and when they create a quiz or exam, make sure that they place questions on it that you would have to read the actual novel to understand. So then, the question becomes what is the importance of literature? Is it an important thing that students read the original novel versus SparkNotes version? Or can they get from SparkNotes all that they need, enough information to pass a test and get a decent grade. My answer to this is the original text is important and students are missing out on valuable information by ignoring that and only choosing to look at SparkNotes.