Thursday, November 10, 2005

Appointment with a plagiarist

Blame it on my mother, who always tried to make the discipline instructive. I didn't send the kid Deanward but
kept him under my thumb and made him rewrite the paper. We didn't have an extensive conversation. I told him
that I needed to speak with him privately after he turned in his exam; he had about five minutes to sweat it out
while others filed out of the room. I told him that I'd caught him plagiarizing and he said "Uh....un-huh." And I
told him that he had two choices: he could proceed to the Dean's office or he could show up at my office prepared
to outline a wholly original paper Thursday at 1:30. Unsurprisingly, he chose the latter. Our meeting today went
smoothly. He confessed that he knew what he had done was wrong and knew why it was unacceptable; he led
with an apology, which demonstrates that he's smarter than his actions had indicated. And we quickly laid
out a perfectly satisfactory paper, studded with evidence that he gathered from the book he hadn't read before
last night, and he's got a Writing Center appointment for tomorrow afternoon. He's agreed to turn in the
paper on Saturday and thanked me again as he left. So he might be a total bullshitter. He might know what's
expected in such situations and switched to default groveling mode. But...I don't
have to be his moral compass. I have to teach him to write and analyze documents. To do that, he's got
to actually do some work -- something that would not be accomplished by a trip to the Dean.

So maybe I'm a big wuss for not nailing his head to the wall as was my first inclination. On reconsideration,
though, I've begun to think that cheating students sometimes just need to be made
to face their fears of writing failure and realize that they can succeed on their own steam.


listmaker said...

You're definitely not a wuss; just a great teacher. If he's not guilty of sham groveling, it's a lesson he'll always remember.

imfunnytoo said...

The choice you made was perfect for the non-chronic cheater. If this was a student who only thought "I'm backed up, I'm behind, maybe I can sneak this one by..." You've both illustrated the unacceptability of plagarism, and given a chance for the person to redress the error on his own.

And, if a student were to be a chronic cheat, you don't have to be the one to hang them...It will happen to them eventually anyway.

This seems a great way to teach... :)

...jg said...

Is there a maximum grade you'll give him on his new paper? I'd give him a C-, maximum...and then only if it's a brilliant paper. Why a C-? The average person doesn't cheat, and he did, so he can't do as well as the average person on this one.

If he's as mature as he appears to be about all of this, he'll certainly understand why this is necessary.

bridgett said...

Yep, he understands that the top grade that he will be able to receive is a 70. He's basically engaged in writing it to redeem his good name and because even a 70 is
better than zero and a trip to the Dean's office. Our plagiarism policy is such that he probably would not have been expelled for a first offense, but had he been a recidivist ("Do you know what recidivism means, Hi?") he would have been shitcanned. I didn't ask if this was his first offense or not, but I know that he's conformed to the letter to what I've asked him to do. I hope that means that he's learning a life lesson and that he's going to go forth to sin no more. But one can't know that sort of thing.