Copyright Basics for Teaching

If you do not have a clear understanding of the U.S. Copyright law, especially that which applies to Internet resources, you might inadvertently be teaching your students to steal without realizing it. Here are the most basic facts you and your students need to know to avoid copyright infringement.

Copyright basics: what can or can’t be copyrighted

Copyright is literally the right to copy information. In most cases, that right belongs to the person who created and “fixed” the work in its finished form. Original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works can be copyrighted. That covers a wide range of material such as poetry, novels, photographs, cartoons, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

Material that is not original but copied from others cannot be given copyright protection.

Facts and ideas cannot be copyrighted, nor can operating procedures. However, the way facts, ideas, and procedures are expressed may be able to be copyrighted. That is why dozens of poems saying spring is the season of renewal can each be afforded copyright protection: each one expresses the basic idea differently.

Other items that cannot be copyrighted are discoveries and inventions, which can be given patent protection, and words, phrases, and symbols and designs used to identify the source of goods or services. Those can be given trademark protection.

Four mistaken ideas about copyright

Many people hear the term “public domain” and mistakenly believe that material that is on public display, such as material in blogs or websites, is OK to copy. That is not true. The term public domain has nothing to do with the accessibility of the material: it usually means any copyright on the material has expired.

Many people think that unless something bears a copyright notice they can duplicate and share the information freely. That is not true. Copyright legally exists as soon as a work is created and fixed in some tangible, perceptible form. It is not necessary for a work to be registered with the copyright office or even for the work to contain a copyright notice.

Some people mistakenly believe that they may copy material from the Internet as long as they don’t make any money from using the material. That is not true either.

Other people think as long as they share the material just with a few people, it is OK to copy it. That is definitely not true. Sharing copyrighted material with even one other person is an infringement of the copyright owner’s legal rights.

Fair use is limited to small portions

Under a provision of the copyright law called fair use, you or your students can legally reproduce a small portion of a copyrighted work in a review or a discussion of the work, such as a research paper. The law, however, does not define what a “small portion” is. Many scholars consider fair use to be less than 10 or 20 percent of the whole work, but copyright holders are not so generous.

It is safe to assume that anything which can be downloaded as a single item should not be copied and shared even with one other person without prior written permission of the copyright holder even if the name of the copyright holder is clearly displayed on the material. That means a single photograph, a single web page, a single PDF, a single cartoon or this single blog post should not be shared unless the user has secured the copyright holder’s permission in advance.

Hyperlink use is acceptable

It is acceptable to provide a hyperlink to copyrighted material without notifying the copyright holder in advance. That allows the copyright holder to retain control over the material, which is the purpose of copyright, while allowing others a way to incorporate the material in their work.

More information

The US copyright office website http://www.copyright.gov gives detailed information about the copyright law written in remarkably clear language. The site also has kid-friendly tutorial in comic-strip format, “Taking the Mystery out of Copyright.”

©2010 Linda G. Aragoni.

Why did I laugh?

Some teachers I knew once taught in a school that required its secondary teachers to teach students about sexual harassment. To fulfill that obligation, one teacher gave students some reading to do at home and then gave them a short answer test. I was privileged to read some of the students’ responses to the test.

Asked to define sexual harassment, one student wrote, “sexual hairassment is unwanted sexual jesters or sex inurwindow.”

The teacher who showed me the test responses couldn’t understand why I laughed.

I hope you will understand and laugh, too.

©2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Link your stories to students’ lives

Through LinkedIn, I met a graduate student who coordinates the Gerontology Student Association meetings at the University of Southern California. She was intrigued that I am writing books about nursing home visiting and thought other students would also be interested in my experience and perspectives. She invited me to talk to the group via Zoom this past Tuesday.

I organized my presentation in terms of three historical periods—the Baby Boom era of 1945-1970, the Vietnam Era of 1970-1995, and what I call “the Angry Era,” 1995-2020—and the newly-launched Epidemic Era, which will last longer than I will.

The online session was a vivid reminder why I miss teaching college students. On Zoom, I could see them processing what I was saying: it was almost as if students’ skulls were transparent.

What made their eyes light up with an “oh, yeah, I see that” expression were stories about what people did in response to historical events.

As teachers, I fear we often forget that ever since there have been people, those people have learned through stories about their world, how it functions, and how other people in it are likely to behave. People forget facts; they rarely forget how facts affected them. The affect of facts become the stories of a person’s life.

I revisit my teaching in terms of stories.

As I think back on my teaching experiences, I remember stories.

I remember the little boy in the class of multiply handicapped children who banged his leg braces on the floor and yelled with glee, “See what Wuss dooze!” as his hyperactive buddy named Russell, whose birth defect that prevented him from speaking but didn’t keep him from exploring, investigated every aspect of the classroom.

I remember the college freshman who literally broke into a sweat and shook when he was faced with a blank piece of paper. And I remember the story I concocted to get him to write without letting any of the other students notice he had a problem. The class was at 4 p.m. and most students were coming from work so I had the entire class write at the beginning of each class about whatever was on their minds for one minute without stopping , starting with 3×5-inch pieces of paper.

Like me, you also probably remember stories about students you taught far better than your remember their names.

As you prepare to teach future classes, keep alert to opportunities to tell students stories that will fix some important aspect of your material in students’ minds so it can’t readily shake loose. Your students will remember stories you used as teaching tools far better than they will remember facts you tried to drill into their noggins.

I’m going to remember the story Yingxue, my USC gerontology student hostess, told me about how the Chinese traditionally make a peach-shaped, steamed cake with red bean paste for older adults as a birthday gift. For my birthday, which happened to fall on the day of my presentation, Yingxue, drew me this cartoon representation of the Chinese god of longevity, 寿星 (Shou Xing), who holds a peach.

That’s a story and a gift I’m not likely to forget soon.

©2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Hardback books promote reading

If you want to encourage reading among students age 10 and up, give them ready access to hardback books other than textbooks.

I was reminded of that this past week as I reread Mark Glickman’s Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books. Glickman introduces his story by telling how the UPS driver delivered to him a 1764 copy of the Hilkhot Alfasi, a title Glickman says “literally means ‘Jewish Laws of the Guy from Fez.’” Inside the front cover, he found a decal whose logo featured two concentric starts of David and the caption “Jewish Cultural Reconstruction.”

plundered books
Stacks of boxes of books plundered by Nazis.

A Google search told Glickman that the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction was an organization that sought Jewish and other culturally important works stolen by the Nazis and attempted to return them to their rightful owners. Intrigued, Glickman began digging to find out how his book and millions of other books survived the war.

In the final chapter before the Afterword, Glickman says, “It’s  an irony of modern technology: the more digitized our books become, the more drawn we are to the printed word.”

If his observation needed proof, Glickman provides it in the Afterword in which he tells of showing his copy of the Hilkhot Alfasi to descendants of European Jews attending a religious and educational summer camp in the Pacific Northwest. Glickman says touching the pages afforded those kids a way to connect with the generation of their forebears nearly wiped out during the Holocaust.

You probably can’t show your students rare books like the  Hilkhot Alfasi, but any hardcover, nonfiction you can put within their grasp encourages reading, especially by male students. Paperback books may get passed around, but hardback books get handed down. Guys see hardcover books as serious, useful, important, valuable. If you allow students to borrow your hardcover books, they’ll interpret that as a sign of your respect for them and their abilities—even if they don’t know yet what their abilities are.

One other thing: Don’t go all librarian on this, with borrower cards and due dates. Lend to students as to any of your friends. Turning students into readers is a good thing, even if you lose a book or two in the process.

©2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Literary nonfiction for high school/college

Books about deaths that shouldn’t have happened

three book covers
These literary nonfiction works can be used by high school and college ELA classes.

Despite their grim topics, any of the three literary nonfiction works discussed here is suitable English course reading for teens and college students. The books’ subjects are different enough that most students will find one of them interesting at least in a gruesome way.

The Lost Eleven

The men who became the “lost eleven” are black men from Southern states who find themselves in January 1943 in Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, being taught to operate the 155mm howitzer. Their commanding officer is sure blacks can’t be taught, but their white battalion commander, Captain McLeod, is determined to show blacks can learn to perform as well as white soldiers. McLeod’s patience and willingness to try unorthodox teaching methods, such as letting the men sing “Roll, Jordan Roll” to help them synchronize their movements, prove the CO wrong.

The men perform well in training and on the battlefields of Europe. As the war draws to a close, however, the artillerymen have been left in France when Adolf Hitler launches his last attempt to defeat the allies on Dec. 16, 1944. A few of McLeod’s soldiers escape the Germans and trudge north through deep snow, still wearing their summer uniforms, until they reach the Belgian village of Wereth. There they find shelter with a local family for a few hours until the SS troops find them and brutally murder them.

If you can read The Lost Eleven without shedding a tear, you’re stronger than I am.

Artillerymen with their weapon
Black gunners operate the 155mm howitzer.

Short chapters with helpful date-place notes at their heads and a list of characters help readers keep their mental place. Large, well-leaded print makes the text accessible to individuals who find many nonfiction books’ text is too dense for comfortable reading. Photographs show military scenes and post-war scenes of Wereth.

For English teachers who collaborate with teachers in other disciplines, The Lost Eleven would be a wonderful accompaniment to student’s history class study of World War II. Students would come away with a far more detailed knowledge of both the foreign war and race relations in the U.S and Europe  than most would get from their history class texts. Students could also be led to discover how they can distinguish historical facts from plausible inventions. In that regard, it’s worth nothing that nearly all the authors’ sources are available online.

The Lost Eleven: The Forgotten Story of Black American Soldiers Brutally Murdered in World War II. By Denise George and Robert Child. © 2017. Caliber. 398 p.

The Education of a Coroner

Drawings of bodies
A coroners’ education includes math and medicine.

Despite its subtitle, The Education of a Coroner is not a textbook. Instead, John Bateson has written what might have been Marin County, California’s Coroner Ken Holmes’s memoirs had Holmes written them himself.

Holmes grew up in California with a keen interest in anatomy and in what happened to animals he shot while hunting. He was intensely interested in how bodies worked. As a teen, he considered medicine as a career, but decided to be a coroner or funeral director because those occupations required less college. They also required good people skills, which Holmes definitely had.

Marin County is both affluent and notorious. It’s home to San Quentin, has high rates of alcoholism and drug overdoses, and it’s Golden Gate Bridge is a magnet for people contemplating suicide. In his 36-year career, Holmes meets all sorts of people. He also acquires extensive information about firearms, medicine, crime scene investigation, drugs, and how to talk to a deceased person’s family with sensitivity and practicality. The book is neither salacious or gruesome.

Although The Education of a Coroner might not be every student’s idea of great reading, the book does suggest a great many topics that high school and first year college students could explore in a writing class, beginning with how to find a career that’s not obvious.

The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death. By John Bateson. © 2017 Scribner. 358 pages.

Ruthless Tide

front of Ruthless Tide
A 40 mph flood destroyed Johnstown, NY, in minutes.

The prologue to Ruthless Tide introduces  6-year-old Gertrude Quinn, who would be caught in and swept away by, the Johnstown Flood. Her father, James Quinn, was a prosperous store owner and a worrier. One of the things he worries about was the possibility that the dam 14 miles and 500 feet above Johnstown, PA, would give way. In the prologue, Al Roker sketches traces the causes of the May 31, 1899, flood back to rich captains of industry like Andrew Carnegie who couldn’t have cared less about the people downstream.

The damage from the Johnstown Flood was not just from water, but also from what it carried with it: flammable liquids which burned as the water carried them downstream. Instead of putting fire out, water amplifies it by pouring onto its base, causing it to leap up and away from the water.

Clara Barton arrived June 4, said the Red Cross would take charge, and it did, making the Red Cross a national institution. Johnstown rebuilt, but the industrialists who built the dam to create their private lake above the town, never accepted any responsibility for the damage they caused. The flood led to an “anti-monopoly, anti-big corporations” movement in America, but that didn’t repair the damage or prevent future catastrophes.

You might want to ask if any colleague in the history department is interested in pairing up with you to require Ruthless Tide for both your courses. It is compelling story written for general readers that would be great English class reading when students are studying 19th century American history. Chapters average about 18 pages.

Ruthless Tide: The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, America’s Astonishing Gilded Age Disaster. By Al Roker. © 2018. William Morrow. 305 pages.

© 2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni

More student bloopers

To give everyone a break from bad news and bad weather, here are three more bloopers from college students’ papers.

I always thought that if someone killed and killed and had no couscous they should get the death penalty.

Anonymous student

One can’t help wondering what the appropriate penalty would be for killers who have couscous.

This next item is from an explanation of the organizational structure of the company for which the student worked.

Below the board of Dictators our company branches out into divisions where there is a President and one of more Vice Presidents. . . . Their goals are set each day with the satisfaction of knowing that they are satisfying their customers by demanding excellence in the process of making an intolerable product.

Another anonymous student

It doesn’t take much to satisfy some people.

The next quotation is self-explanatory.

In a place of business, writing effectively means coming to a clear and concise point in as few words as possible in order to prevent wordiness.

A third anonymous student

I hope those quotes brighten your day.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

Student bloopers for comic relief

Looking for something Thanksgiving weekend, I ran across a stack of bloopers from college students’ papers. Given all the things that are going wrong in the world, I’m going to post some of these each week before Christmas and pray that comic relief will be less needed in 2022.

My father has a hard time at becoming computer illiterate, and it sort of came easy to me.”

anonymous #1

Another student had plans for the future:

What I hope will be a long and pleasant journey is perusing my associate’s degree.

anonymous #2

A third student admitted to having difficulty starting a writing assignment:

It is hard for me to begin writing my assigned papers even after I have an idea. I guess you might call me a procreator.

anonymous #3

But students who work hard in their first year English classes, make progress, as this student explained:

I’m a treble speller. But after this class I am getting allot better. I have really enjoyed this class it’s been fun and existing.

anonymous #4

That’s all for today.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

Make four-letter words build literacy skills

Writing skill depends on word-awareness. One simple way I’ve found to build word awareness among students of any age or background is to require students each week to find one four-letter word that can be used as two or more parts of speech, thereby giving the word different meanings.

Presented in grammar-speak it sounds rather complicated, but it’s really simple enough for elementary students and English-language learners to understand. The key to making it work is to have students do the activity every week for at least a half year. Students need at least that much time to develop the habit of paying attention to words they run across outside of books as well as inside them.

This image represents a cart (noun) which is used to cart (verb) groceries.

Essentially what you do is:

  1. Show students one or two examples of common words that have different meanings when used as different parts of speech. (Someone might cart (verb) junk to the landfill in a cart (noun), or bump (verb) her head going over a bump (noun) in the road.)
  2. Require students to turn in each week an example of a four-letter word that has different meanings when used as a different part of speech, showing an example of each of the meanings in a sentence.
  3. Each week, show a few examples turned in that week, being careful to give all students equal opportunity to have their work presented as a good example. (If possible, use this activity to interject a bit of fun between more intellectually demanding activities.)

It’s not necessary for you to teach the grammatical terms for the different parts of speech before you show students what they are to do. You can slip in the terms and their definitions as you show the examples.

Here are some common English words that you might use to show students how a word can be used in different ways with different meanings:

  • cart
  • bump
  • hand
  • spin
  • bank
  • tree
  • make
  • mail

Done regularly, this simple activity can help students learn both vocabulary and basic grammar terms with a minimum of effort on your part.

©2021 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pick simple feedback method for online teaching

If you are going to teach online, whether you teach online occasionally or regularly, you need to plan to spend far less time presenting material and far more time getting student feedback. In the online classroom, you need to deliberately solicit student feedback multiple times during each day’s class. Even if you have technology that lets you see every student, it’s not easy to scan 29 photos to see who didn’t understand a word you said. It’s much better to have some way to get feedback in writing from each student during each class.

Identify two or three ways of getting feedback during class so you can experiment to find which work best with your students and your subject. Look for the simplest technology, not the sexiest. You want something that students can have open at the same time they have your instructional program open.

You could have students use something as simple as a text file in which they can respond to questions you pose during class. If you give students a standard way of slugging those files (last name and class date might work), you can pull all submissions from one student into a folder. Then, without spending a lot of time or effort, you can respond to each student individually on a regular basis. One personal response a week to each student may be all you need to keep students engaged.

Explanation and apology

Readers of this blog and/or my GreatPenformances blog may have encountered posts that are obviously incomplete. Since both blogs are hosted at WordPress.com, I suspect the blog host is experiencing problems. Unfortunately, I don’t have copies of every text document and graphic image, so in some cases there’s no way for me to repair the posts. I’m sorry if you’ve looked for items and found they weren’t all there.

©2021 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Modifiers should cuddle up to nouns

English modifiers are supposed to cuddle close to the nouns they modify. When they stray, they almost always elicit a few snickers and sometimes totally mislead readers.

icon representing a submarine
Did debris cause this sub to sink?

The two-sentence example I have for you to use as an informal writing prompt for teens and adults is appropriate in both English and journalism classes, since it was a National Public Radio news item.

The news item

Display this news item to students and read it aloud to begin the informal writing activity. You may want to put the title in larger print or in boldface so students recognize the first line is a title rather than a complete sentence.

“Indonesian Navy confirms submarine carrying 53 sank after finding debris.”

“The Indonesian Navy on Saturday announced debris from a missing submarine has been found deep in the Bali Sea, ending hopes of finding any survivors among the 53-person crew.”

The informal writing prompt, part 1

Once you’ve read the displayed item aloud, ask students to identify in one sentence any part of the news item that is not immediately clear to someone skimming the item. Give them 30 seconds to write their full-sentence response.

Next, without asking for any oral responses, go to the second part of this informal prompt.

The informal writing prompt, part 2

Display and read this material for students: “Compare these two sentences:

  • The Navy confirms a submarine carrying 53 sank after finding debris.
  • The Navy confirms a submarine carrying 53 sank after hitting an iceberg.

Now, write no more than three sentences in which you:

  • Compare the differences in the two sentences,
  • Identify which of the sentences makes better sense, and
  • Say why that sentence makes better sense.

(You’ll probably need to repeat the directions at least once.) Give students two minutes to do that.

Take another two minutes to have students explain orally why the original headline wasn’t immediately clear.

For journalism class use

If you are using this item in a journalism class, you could ask students how to make the brief news item easier for readers to grasp quickly. Inexperienced reporters invariably want to use alternatives to said. They also typically put the most important information at the end of the sentence instead of its beginning.

Newspaper readers expect the most important information to be at the front of a sentence and they expects an attribution after a quote to end with the word said. By meeting those expectations, journalists allow readers to skip over some words and still get the gist of a news story.

© 2021 Linda G. Aragoni