Sunday, January 29, 2012
To catch a plagiarist
"What I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills that I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you."
The background: Before we went on winter break, in fact, about 10 days before the break started I assigned a winter break project. I've learned from experience that kids tend to stop coming to school in the few days before a break, so, if I want everyone to do the break project, I need to tell them way in advance.
The project: To choose from a provided list of holidays and celebrations in Spanish speaking countries and write a 3 page research paper, including a picture. I had an awesome list of both holidays related to religious celebrations and non-religious celebrations, holidays from a wide variety of Spanish speaking countries, holidays that had to do with fashion, or animals, or food. In other words, at least one of these holidays should have appealed to every student. I also had a list of suggested things to write about.
The details: Once again my experience kicked in. Although this assignment is for a Spanish class, I asked for my students to complete the assignment in English. Why? I explained to them, they simply don't have the level of Spanish required to complete a research paper, they are not behind where they should be, in fact, very few 2nd year Spanish students would be able to take on such a challenge, and be successful. I told them that in the past, students have used online translators or asked Spanish speaking friends to "help" with their assignments, both scenarios that would earn them a 0 that I wanted to avoid completely.
I even wrote at the bottom of the assignment sheet, "Please refer back to our classes plagiarism policy which can be found at the end of the student contract you and your parents signed in September."
Unfortunately I think the warning is where I went wrong! I'm pretty sure my students read to the end of the assignment and read the word "plagiarism" and thought to themselves: "Oh yeah! I'll just do that! I don't need to do my project at all."
I caught so many plagiarists! For an assignment written in English! It was ridiculous. It was so easy, I didn't even have to go into many of my skills acquired over many years à la Liam Neeson's character. The kids who plagiarized pretty much all used the same websites, wikipedia being one of the top ones, and despite having a list of about 20 holidays they all wrote about the same three or four. Super easy, super frustrating. When I suspect plagiarism, I turn to trusty google, and type in the phrase. If it comes up, fabulous. I print the website, get out my highlighter and highlight everything that has been copied. I staple everything together and return it to the student with an explanation and a purple 0.
Some kids actually plagiarized the entire three pages. I am shocked and appalled. I'm also a little offended that they didn't think I'd question their continued use of the word "lorries". Really guys?
I had one girl come to me crying, because this grade counted in the test/quiz/project category, students who plagiarized grades dropped drastically. When I asked her why she was upset now after making the choice she made she replied "I didn't know it would effect my grade that much." Now, I know 10th and 11th grade students have been warned of this in other classes, they know better. Although I hate to see someone crying, this is not a lesson she (and many others) will soon be forgetting. What lesson would they have learned if I had NOT given zeros?
If you liked this, you might like Catching a cheater