Friday, November 5, 2010

Phony Balogna

It's another marathon grading weekend here at the small apartment in the woods. This means I've got a cat nesting on the desk next to me...

... and a freshly-baked loaf of chocolate chip banana bread at my disposal for when I lose all faith in my ability to teach writing, and thus stress eat to drown my sorrows.

It also means I've got the inevitable plagiarism to deal with. I always get a little angry when I catch my students plagiarizing--I take things too, too seriously, I know--but this time made me extra angry.

So, there I was sitting in front of the computer and grading my fifteenth essay of the day. I read the title. I read the first sentence. My brain went, Wait a second. I read the second sentence. My brain went, NO, SERIOUSLY. Then I finished up the whole first paragraph and my brain said, OH NO SHE DIDN'T.

What I was reading I had read before. I was sure of it. Not only was the topic old--it was an argument essay about the No on One campaign that had been defeated last fall--but the language and voice of the essay was sassy, specific, and something not easy to forget.

I was reading a paper one of my former students had turned in last fall. I knew it. I knew it.

So I started thinking about this student who'd just turned it in as her own. I wondered who she and I had in common. Who did she know that had taken one of my composition courses? Then I remembered her talking about her best friend, how they were going on vacation soon, how they were both super excited and positively ga-ga at the idea of getting out there on their own. And her best friend? She'd been my student last fall.

I closed my eyes and took a breath. Then I went back to the archive of last fall's Blackboard course--where all my students submit electronic copies of their essays--and simply looked up the best friend's paper.

It was the same paper. Exact same paper. EXACT. SAME. PAPER.

The only thing that was changed was the secondary essay, a mini self-reflection I require all students to write about the conscious choices they made as they wrote and what effect they hoped they would have. I ask them to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the piece. I ask them to give me an honest opinion about their progress.

This student wrote her self-reflection as if she had actually written her paper. She made up all the things she hoped she'd done as she wrote the paper. She gave herself a fake little assessment.

It made me want to cry for one of two reasons. Either this student thought I was stupid enough not to catch the dishonesty or else it didn't even occur to her that I'd find them out. Whatever the reason, it was enough to make me want to give up for the night.

But then I remembered the chocolate chip banana bread and felt a little better, and then Abbey raised her head and yawned like she was bored, just oh-so-bored with all of this, and I said I felt her pain, and I gave that student a big fat F and moved on to the next essay.

There are 41 days until the semester is done.

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