What Is It About MLA?

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What is it about MLA citation that makes it so impossible for students to learn? Alternatively, what is it about me that makes me such a good learner (or is that "so anal-retentive" instead?)? I gave the grad students a little MLA practice sheet. Nothing fancy, mind you. In fact, it was designed to just be the basics: citation with quotation, citation with quotation when author's name used in the sentence, paraphrase, etc. I handed them the list of tasks at the end of class with a Starbucks gift card prize for the first student to email me the answers with no errors. The gift card remains mine. On some level I can understand. I think there's something fundamentally unnatural about citation--it's just not the way people think or write. When I'm able to step outside of my own geeky brain for a minute, I can see how alien the whole thing is. I imagine I would feel the way my students feel if I were in a chemistry class, dealing with notations and formulae. And yet, that's the thing about formulae, right? I mean, they're formulaic, which means you don't have to think about it 'cause all you have to do is fill in the blanks. On the other hand, the formula only works if you know it. Clearly, my grad students don't know it yet. I got missing quotation marks, I got commas between the author and the page number, I got citations after a period, I got it all. Clearly we'll be spending some more time on this in class, but I don't know how else to explain it without making it dead dead boring. Anyone got some ideas? I'm not fussy but perhaps I am fastidious. OCD? Nah. Anal? Perhaps. I'm not sure what it is in me that lets me learn how to do all this so correctly or maybe it's better to say I'm not sure what it is in me that makes me learn how to do all this so correctly. Clearly, an issue for therapy and not for Bits. 😉
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.