Sunday, January 29, 2012

To catch a plagiarist

This week I find myself identifying with these words spoken by Liam Neeson in the movie, Taken.

"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


Maestra in Middle said...

I so understand! I did something similiar for Dia de la raza and for Dia de los muertos. Even after having a large discussion about the difference between using and citing a source and downright plagarism, just like you did, I don't think any of the students realized my husband (also a teacher) and I would type their papers into Google to find where they got their papers from. Even having them write by hand in English, they just copied off the Internet. I made sure to tell their English teachers so they too could get after them about plagarism.

Elouise Tomás said...

Glad (and also disappointed) to find out I'm not the only one!

We're New York's Brightest said...


I could really use some of your skills right now. My students are starting a "Favorite Mathematician" project next month (not something I want to do... but my school forces all of us to do this project...)and from what I've heard from the ELA teacher, they are BIG cheaters/plagarizers. You were absolutely right in giving them zeros, and their suffering grades will serve as a lesson well taught. Sad that you had to teach them (sophomores and juniors! So sad.) this and not their English teacher. My kids are only in 8th grade, but I am going to go over my expectations first and then check with Google on any instances of plagarism. I really want my school to adopt as a way to check for plagarism, but the administration has refused the general teacher agreement many times. Your method was really helpful, and I plan on using that in the future!

Elouise Tomás said...

Thanks, New York's Brightest!

Sean said...

Hello Elouise

Wow, good for you for calling your students on opying other people's work! That was a good example that you gave, the in the repeated use of the word "lorry" in a report by an American.

Also, having your students write a report in English, for Spanish class was a good idea, since you were developing the cultural aspect of the language.

I teach 7th grade Middle School english. However, this year I was also asked to teach beginning Spanish. My district is requiring me to pass the Praxis II Spanish World Language test. I have taken the test and failed. I am hoping you can advise me on what to do to pass this test. Help!


TaJbid Islam said...

plagiarist is bad habit for some man. i always suggest people to go to this web sites for learning english language
research paper writers

Barbara Jasińska said...

Plagiarism is a bad and immoral act. That's why in the military academies you can be even expelled for such cheating. You simply do not represent the required set of virtues to serve your country.