Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I kind of love my 11th classes.

No offense to anyone else. I just don’t see them as much. The 11th Classes I get with Lucy on Tuesdays and some extras on other days AND my Thursdays. Thursdays. The. Best. I’m up super early, almost done teaching by 9am. They are tired, dragging. But I try to rush in with “guns blazing” as it were.
My second week, I led us straight into a class long look at that most pernicious of writing class issues: plagiarism.

We’re all kidding ourselves if we think this isn’t a problem. It’s a big one. In classes where all the students are dealing with English as a second language, it’s a classic problem. At training, they said, “If you want them to do any creative projects, address plagiarism early on.”
It’s easy to address what it is and how not to do it: quoting, citing, paraphrasing. But that doesn’ tseem to work. Consequences don’t even work. “Here’s what it’s like at Penn State and how bad it is”. But that never stops anyone.
I wanted to get to the bottom of the issue. To tell them a good reason why plagiarism is bad. To get them to see their reasons for doing it.

Going into it I wasn’t even sure how to convince them. I talked with Robbie on the phone about it.
“Should I just scare them into it?”
“All that will do is just give them a good reason not to be caught.”

So I copped out. I went back to the basics, to what I know, the essentials:

No other way around problems. Using the sticky notes always results in brilliance and unexpected discoveries. I handed everyone two sticky notes and had them write down one reason they think plagiarism is okay or a situation they would use it in. On the other, write down reasons not to do it.

I was real with them. The reasons to plagiarize were a lot shinier than the ones not to. If you plagiarize you:
·      Have more free time.
·      Use a better idea.
·      No new ideas.
·      Better writing. Better marks. [Better marks, better job later]
·      SUCCESS.
And the reasons not to:
·      It’s stealing.
·      You will feel guilty.
·      It isn’t creative.
·      You don’t learn anything.

Success vs Guilt. I think I know which one I’d want.

But then someone put up a note FOR plagiarism that says, “I can’t do it. I will get a bad mark anyway.”

AHA! There it was. One of the underlying motivations. FEAR. The believe that I CAN’T.

Psh. I know what their teachers have told me. I know what past Fulbrighters have told me. I know what I’ve seen since I arrived in Dobrich.

Can’t? Whatever.

All that they thought they’d gain was only because they were sure they would get nowhere on their own. That completely undermines any attempt at learning whatsoever. No. It’s not true. I believe they can. And. I made sure they heard me say that I’m not going to hate them if they struggle. Tell me. Talk to me. I’ll help you with the parts that are hard.

Their eyes got big. Oh. That’s what we’re saying about ourselves. Some of them looked hopeful, like it could really be possible.

I know that what I said didn’t stick with every student. Some of them do it because they want to see if they can. Others are self-identified as lazy (though I said that was out of fear too, fear to try and potentially fail). Everyone gets to that point in school where they wait too long and it is impossible to do the work. But that wasn’t because they couldn’t originally, it was because they need to learn time management. It isn’t a cure all.
And there will always be the kids (me!) who firmly, immovably can’t imagine doing plagiarism because its stealing and because someone told them not to! They didn’t need the lesson at all.
But the middle ground. I needed a new way to help them see the issue. To see themselves. I can’t tell if they heard me. We’ll see.
If nothing else, I got a new vision on the whole thing. I learned. Which, as any person will tell you, is half the motivation for teaching in the first place.


Kaitlin Sickle said...

Yes! The sticky notes make a triumphant return!

One of your students said...

I've got nothing, but respect for you. And now my explanation: We are taught that we CAN'T cope with things on our own. We are taught to cheat, to plagiarise, to compete one with another and to study not for knowledge but for grades. That's it. We are not guilty. The teachers are not guilty too(well some of them).The fucking educational system in Bulgaria sucks. And it's never ever gonna be allright.