Finding Value in Spark Notes

Common Core State Standards: 
Instructional Strategies: 

At the 2014  Conference for the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), Kelly Gallagher, admitted using SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare to teach Hamlet. Here Shakespeare’s original language is presented on the left-hand page and the modern translation on the right-hand page.

Were you there at his presentation? Did you hear the supposed gasps in the audience when this respected educator made his admission?

A high school student recently told me that “everyone uses SparkNotes,” to review chapter by chapter summaries, critical analyses, and quizzes. Many teachers consider this use as being just plain, old-fashioned cheating.  

Mr. Gallagher offers a different point of view. He sees SparkNotes as a tool that provides numerous teaching and learning benefits. How can it help you? First, it provides   a frame of reference prior to digging into the text. Second, it elucidates difficult text by offerings translations; and builds understanding of motifs and themes.  He notes, “Instead of spending time wrestling with translating the text, I’d rather my students spend time wrestling with the big ideas found in the text.”  

These ideas are relevant for teaching students with disabilities. Since struggling students often have difficulty with abstract and complex concepts, using SparkNotes can help them access, understand, and engage with Shakespeare (and other literature) on a deeper level. Using SparkNotes with a variety of evidence-based  reading comprehension strategies can enhance reading comprehension for young readers (see for example: Why I Like SparkNotes & 3 Ideas to Check Reading).

Many teachers use PowerUp What Works to enhance their teaching with the three relevant strategy guides: self-questioning, summarizing, and visualizing. Each one of three strategies includes instructional strategies designed to help struggling students, suggestions for integrating technology tools, short videos, and additional resources. Teaching students to apply these strategies gives adolescents the critical skills they need to become independent readers, thinkers, and learners.

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