A Big Red Flag: Citations as a Source of Concern

My 4th and 5th grade students are currently writing ebooks: 4th grade on the short-lived local French colony, Fort Caroline, and 5th grade on the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The ebooks are culminating projects based on a previous unit I did with both classes using Diigo to organize information.

We began our ebook unit by looking at several excellent student-produced, non-fiction examples I had downloaded from the iTunes store. The examples included not only text, but also student-produced images as well as audio and video recordings.The books were creative and informational and served to motivate and inspire my two classes as they have begun the process of creating their own ebooks.

Standards_cover_200pxAs beautiful as the books are, however, not one cited any information sources. As a librarian, this is a big red flag! My practice as a school librarian is guided by the common beliefs expressed in the American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (2009), one of which is:

“Learners…share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.”

In our copy-and-paste information world, how do we teach our students to use information both correctly and ethically? Most of my career, I have worked in higher education.  I have spent many hours teaching college students the various citation style formats. Even for these students, it is not an easy, nor enjoyable, task. But, as I tell my elementary students, you may not use someone else’s idea or work product and publish it as your own. It is as simple as that. Also, citations allow readers to not only access the original source, but also potentially find more information.

So I’ve spent the last two sessions with my 4th/5th graders discussing the need for crediting sources and creating citations. For this age group, I’ve decided to use a simplified Modern Language Association (MLA) format, consisting of author, web page and website titles, publication format, and date of access. (For this project, student research consists entirely of web pages.)

Reflection_ Citations_ A Source of Concern - Google Drive

As for understanding the need to cite sources, my students are savvy, already getting lots of practice as regular student bloggers. But creating formal citations is so much harder. Students have to understand not only the various elements of a citation, but also where to locate those pieces of information and then putting it all into the correct format. It is a tedious and time-consuming task, but we are getting there.

The process has been a learning challenge for my young student authors–and  their librarian alike. But as the AASL points out, source citation is a matter of ethics. I cannot wait to upload our ebooks to the iTunes store. But first, we have to master the specifics of full and proper citation! Those ebooks will be examples of not only “sharing knowledge” but also “participating ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.”

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers (Edudemic.com)

EasyBib: Free Bibliography and Citation Maker (Imagine Easy Solutions, LLC)

MLA Style (Purdue Online Writing Lab)


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