Friday, October 28, 2016

Those Wacky Plagiarists and Their Zany Antics

I've caught students plagiarizing on various occasions. I may have an unfair advantage, as I teach English Language Learners and actually read what they write. In advanced classes, that can be a lot. If I'm unlucky enough to be prepping them for the English Regents exam, it could be just about every minute we're together.

The reason for that is that a lot of my students have tutors, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, and who knows who else to help them write. Sometimes the tutors think it's a good idea to do the homework for my students. But they either do it perfectly or make mistakes that are different from those my students make. I have to give them credit if they've matched my students' styles perfectly. That's not easy to do. In any case, I do virtually all writing in class because I'm tired of dealing with preposterous denials.

But ever since I started teaching, I've been surprised at the things kids could get away with. Once, when I was teaching a class of beginning ESL students, a girl showed me a report she'd written on Thomas Edison. It was clearly copied from a text. The comment the teacher had written was, "needs more pictures." You could view that as charitable, but more charitable still would be not wasting the student's time on tasks for which she was clearly not ready.

One of my students, on one of the first days she was in my class, brought me a bunch of extra credit reports, even though I hadn't asked for them. They were all about the delights of reading Shakespeare, and were all clearly written by some hack writer who needed to introduce a book about Shakespeare. "What's your favorite Shakespeare play?" I asked her. She looked at me as thought I'd just fallen from the sky. I asked her to please stop bringing me extra credit reports. 

Once, in the early days of the new English Regents, I was in a room with a bunch of people grading. This, of course, was before Merryl Tisch, in her infinite wisdom, determined we were all too crooked to grade students in our school. By that yardstick, every single grade except those on the Regents exam is invalid, but I digress. I found an issue, and brought it to an AP.

The AP angrily asked, "Well, who besides you would've noticed it?" Everyone, I'd hope, because in fact I'd identified two identical papers, right up to the spelling errors. It went to another AP, who decided that particular essay would get a zero, but the student would still pass. I told that AP it would really be a shame if the state found out about that. Of course I wouldn't call, but a lot of people knew about it and gee, wouldn't that be inconvenient? The AP decided to invalidate the papers, both copied from a handout some teacher had given.

I also once found an A paper one of my ELLs had written which I immediately recognized she did not write. When I pulled her out of a classroom to tell her, she asked, "You're not going to tell Ms. X.. are you?" I said no, I wouldn't, but I just wanted her to know it could be done. I told her I would've given her a zero, and that if I could recognize it, others could too. I didn't feel like ratting her out. I figure if she'd gotten away with it, well, she'd gotten away with it.

I know a lot of kids copy my homework, and unless it's a writing assignment, I won't catch a lot of it. But I also know that I give maybe ten minutes worth of homework a night, and any kid who needs to copy it is almost certainly going to fail any test I give. I try to tell them it's better to do the homework, but I'm not always successful. I wonder if kids who really can do the homework copy it. Are students so lazy that they'd copy homework even if they could easily do it themselves?

If you know the best way to deal with plagiarism, please let me know. I'm curious.
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