Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A very unsmiling day

Thank you for your comments and suggestions about this plagiarism business! It's interesting, because I ended up going in a direction very different from you all.

First, the motivation was a word game. Part one was to find all the definitions of 'incense' (inspired by yesterday's post). Part two was to unscramble a word (which was 'plagiarize'). Once they had both, they were to find the connection.

Most students in both classes (class 3 was a on a trip all day, so they get this tomorrow) did find the connection.

Once they got that, I gave them all a lecture. I didn't want to single anyone out, and I wanted all of them to know about it and understand the gravity of the situation. So I spoke in a quiet, measured voice for at least ten minutes. I told them how upset I was, but also how disappointed. That after half a year of working together, they would decide to cheat and lie. That they've known since day one that I expect nothing but the best, and that every day we work toward achieving that best. Plagiarizing is cheating, it is lying, and it is wrong, period. I am smarter than they are and I can easily tell when they are not using their own words. The grade AP has received a list of names of the plagiarizers. The students have failed me and upset me, but they have also failed themselves by trying to take the easy way out. Lying and cheating will never get you to the top. You may not get caught, but you'll cheat yourself. All of my students are intelligent, and should excel through their own work. And my trust in them is broken. From this day on, every.single.word they turn in--to me, to other teachers, this year and later--had better be their own.

You could hear a pin drop in that room. A lot of the innocent kids just watched me wide-eyed. I noticed that a couple of the plagiarizers were looking down in shame.

After my lecture was over, I said, "Clearly we need to work on writing in our own words. Rewrite this organizer. Take notes as I read, deciding which category the information belongs in. If you don't know a word, why would you write it down? Remember, this is YOUR voice."

So I told them that we would distill some information--take something big and break it down into easier, smaller pieces. I read them a few paragraphs about another famous children's author, we compared which information was written down and under which category. Then I told them to recreate and write one or two paragraphs about that person, using their OWN words.

They wrote for a few minutes, working hard. I praised students that I saw incorporating strategies we've learned this year. I let them share with their tables, telling them to make sure it is in their own voice. "Doesn't it feel better to write from your own voice, your own words?" They agreed.

I concluded this section of class by reminding them that this is how they should write their biographies for this assignment: taking notes with the organizer, and using their own words to write about it. It seemed like they got it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You innocent child. Nearly all NYC schoolkids plagiarize. I've been in this game a long, long time, and plagiarism doesn't surprise me anymore. In fact, one year a kid plagiarized his final project by using the listening section of a Regents that had been given a few years earlier. Did he think I wouldn't remember it? Please. These kids don't know HOW to write. You've seen their sentence structure. Do not make the mistake of thinking they can do what you can do, or that what you do is easy for them because it's easy for you. You will need to spend a lot of time teaching them how not plagiarize, how to write for themselves. It's not easy at all. Good luck and don't be so self-righteous and solipsistic.