Sometimes, it just can’t be helped.
Whether it’s because of sports, family events, other homework or just plain procrastination or laziness, every student at one time or another has skipped on their reading homework.
And at times like those, likely to the teacher’s chagrin, SparkNotes was there for them.
Since its founding, SparkNotes has been an invaluable resource and a constant temptation to English students at various grade levels across the country. However, is it a legitimate clarifying tool? Or are teachers right to generally discourage reliance upon it? And do students care to make the distinction?
Healdsburg High students’ opinions about the site are mixed.
“I feel that it’s justified when reading to clarify, and I don’t feel bad reading SparkNotes. It’s a very helpful tool for me,” said junior Benny Shakked.
Sophomore Ally Kuller takes it a step further, describing the frequency of her SparkNotes usage as “pretty often, actually. More than I read! Summaries online are just a lot easier and take less time to read and comprehend.”
Other students abstain from the site or regret having to use it.
“I feel like it’s kind of a cheat. You should be reading the literature and focusing on the details. I used it in middle school and I felt kind of guilty,” said freshman Izzi Rader.
“I use it when I don’t have time to read usually, which is fairly often,” said senior Loren Stone, but who clarifies that “I try not to read SparkNotes in place of the book. Most of the time it’s either because I need to catch up or have a question.”
Some teachers try to make it difficult for students to be able to rely on SparkNotes to get by on their assigned reading.
Rader and senior Nayeli Ramirez agree that the site’s summaries often are not detailed enough to be able to pass reading quizzes.
Why is it necessary for teachers to take extra steps to ensure students are doing assigned reading? Students have a few theories regarding a general distaste for reading.
“My generation, including myself, is much too obsessed with phones and Facebook and stuff, so reading tends to fall by the wayside,” Shakked said.
“It mainly seems like teens are just swamped with homework most of the time, so we take shortcuts to lighten the load,” Stone said.
As for extracurricular reading, he said, “It’s pretty much the same thing. Our mind correlates reading with homework, so we tend to avoid it.”
It’s possible that there is a stigma enforced by some teens against reading in general.
“It really depends,” Kuller said. “Depends on who they consider to be their peers. There are always those teenagers that never read or do their homework, and depending on who their peers are, they may feel as if they’d be looked down upon.”
Ramirez is more optimistic.
“I believe that most teenagers like to read, just not books that are assigned to read by schools, and so their complaints to read school books is what makes people believe teenagers don’t like to read much,” she said.
It’s difficult to say whether there is any one leading factor in the decision of teens not to read assigned materials and to choose an easy way out. Some students feel guilty when skipping out on reading and feel as though they’re cheating themselves or their teachers, while others don’t feel there is anything wrong with reliance on SparkNotes. It certainly doesn’t appear that it will be going anywhere soon, though.

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