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"Renee L. Gross" <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 10 Jun 1998 10:19:31 -0700
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In response to Kent Rasmussen's musings, I'd like to offer my two
cents, although I normally just lurk.

Kent Rasmussen wrote:
> What all this comes down to is this: Does reading plot
> summaries discourage students from reading actual literary
> works? And if so, why? Perhaps a few anecdotes will help
> answer this question.

Plot summaries are a necessary part of the learning process.  I don't
have time in my Composition and Literature class to assign a novel (we
have to teach three plays, as well as a batch of short stories and
poetry); however, when I do assign novels to be read, I will point out
to my students that such things exist.  I even send them to Cliff Notes
for _Hamlet_ because it's a way for them to get at the meat of the story
by bypassing the language.  If they don't understand the plot, then all
my careful lesson about the language and how beautiful it is will fall
on deaf ears. How can I ask them to analyze a character when they don't
understand who he or she is in relation to the others in the story?

> On the other hand, isn't it more likely that my friend's
> high school teacher simply didn't write much of an
> examination? After all, other high school teachers have
> certainly done better.

If my students can write a coherent essay based solely on plot
summaries, then I haven't given them a very good assignment, and I
should fail the courses because they won't have learned a thing.  If all
the student does is regurgitat the plot, then that shows no effort of
thought or planning on his or her part. I offer a great many choices for
students to write about, and not one of them will be found on the
Internet or in a plot summary or Cliff Notes.

> Isn't it just possible that if, in addition to reading Mark
> Twain's books, students were to use reference materials like
> _MTAZ_ and _The Mark Twain Encyclopedia_, their teachers
> could challenge them more deeply? Having reliable plot
> summaries to refer to should, after all, make it easier for
> them to master story lines and details, leaving them freer
> to focus on more important matters, such as Mark Twain's
> language, writing techniques, characterizations, and ideas.

As an additional consideration, I teach at a community college, where we
have many marginal students.  They rarely read, so they often read very
poorly. I have to teach them how to read the details of the
story/play/poem. Students with learning disabilities and other barriers
to learning would, I think, benefit greatly from having access to plot
summaries so that they can grasp the story easily and then move beneath
the words to the themes, ideas, symbols, and connections to other
works.  Also, plot summaries could point students to the exact chapter
they want when they are planning a paper. (I know I wore out my MTP
Huckleberry Finn when paging through to find that exact part that I
wanted to re-read or quote, and I have a partial photographic memory.)
Anyway, the bottom line is that I think students should have access to
all of the assistance that is available to them, including great
resources such as A to Z and the MT Encyclopedia, and lesser resources
such as movies, audio tapes, and yes, Cliff and Monarch Notes.  They are
never substitutes for the "real thing" but are valuable nonetheless.

Just my two cents. Thanks for reading my rather lengthy posting.

Renee L. Gross
Corning Community College