The Phantom Tollbooth
The gifted and talented class had a literature unit where they had a list of books from which to choose. The students had to read their chosen books and do a project, which again they could choose from a list. One of the projects was to write an additional chapter in the style of the author. One girl chose this project, and her book was The Phantom Tollbooth. She was required to read her chapter to the class. She stands up at the front of the room, flexes the pages, and then reads. There is silence from her fellow students. I'm sitting in a desk in the back of the room, and I can't help but think that what she's reading sounds awfully familiar. When she finishes, while everyone claps for her, another student leans over to me and asks, "Wasn't that the first chapter of the book?" I pressed my lips together for a moment and replied, "I think it just might have been." I went to the school library later and took pictures of the pages with my phone. The next day, I showed her the pictures. She had to do the project again, with a penalty. Lesson - If a book is assigned, you can be sure the teacher has read it.
Same unit. One student had chosen one of the Harry Potter books. His project was to write a poem about the book (I don't remember all of the parameters). This student is off task one day, and I ask him how his project is coming. He tells me it's finished, and I ask him to let me see it. He passes me his paper with casual finesse. I read it over and give it back to him, saying, "I saw this YouTube video, too." His grin fades. "Oh really?" he asks.
Lesson - Teachers have internet access. Do your own work.
Lord of the Flies
The class was reading The Lord of the Flies, and they had to write a paper on it. I don't remember what the prompt was. I'm reading through a stack of papers, and I come across one that I feel like I've read before. I scroll back a few pages into the stack and pull out a previous paper, laying them down next to each other. The words are different. But the sentence structure, number of sentences, order of sentences, arguments, flows, number of paragraphs, quotes...everything else is the same. The next day I call them aside and point this out. One of them confesses to copying off the other. They both had to write new papers, with a penalty.
Lesson - When a teacher reads thirty papers in a row, copycats are pretty obvious. Do your own work.
We had bi-weekly vocabulary tests. The words came from whatever we were reading at the time. The students would be given the word, and they would have to define it and reference its importance to the reading. One week I received two papers that not only got all the same questions wrong, but both of them referenced the name of a character that was not in the book, nor in anything else we had read that semester. I brought these two students to the back of the room, in private, and I laid down their papers. "I know one of you copied off the other," I said. "I can't prove which of you did it, but I just want you to know that I'm very disappointed in you." One girl immediately starts to cry. I was surprised - I wouldn't have expected her to cheat.
Lesson - Don't copy others' tests. And if you do, don't copy off people who make up characters that aren't in the book.
My first semester out of college. Now these kids hated the melancholy Dane. I tried a lot of things to get them interested, including letting them in on a few of the sexual double entendres (with an adviser from the district in the classroom, who said I handled it very well). When it came time for the unit test, there were a few students who had missed an important thing here and there, or were absent, and were allowed to take the makeup exam. Three of these students were ones I knew had never paid more than the barest attention during class, and their grades showed it. When they finished the makeup exam, I received three identical Scantrons. I ran one through the machine, and the grade was in the high 80s. Now I knew they had cheated; they'd gotten a copy of somebody else's answers, but I couldn't actually prove it. But I didn't have to prove anything. These three geniuses had all forgotten to put their names on their tests. All three. So I just told them I had no way of knowing whose test was whose, and they'd all have to retake it. They could have called my bluff and claimed the tests, and there wouldn't have been anything I could do about it. But no.
Lesson - It's very important to put your name on your paper. I think they teach that in, what, first grade? Kindergarten?
After the lack of interest in Hamlet, I chose Angela's Ashes next because nobody in my ethnic literature class in college could put it down. I hoped the seniors would like it too. Alas, it was not to be. One day I had given them a worksheet with short-answer questions regarding literary elements used in the book. Two students turn in identical sheets, and I tell them since I don't know who did the work, neither of them will get credit. One of them immediately admits that he didn't do the work, and I thank him for his honesty. Meanwhile a third student is in suspension. When this student returns, he hands in a worksheet with identical answers to the other two. I explain to him that I'd already cracked the case on the cheating. This kid argues that I can't prove he cheated because he did the work in suspension, not in the class. I know he didn't do the reading, so I know he didn't do the assignment either. He did have me on a technicality, though. I stuck to my guns, and this kid decided he wanted to go to the office and complain about me. I sent him to the office. A few minutes later, after he'd already interrupted the class with his fit, I get a call from one of the principals, interrupting my class again. She told me what this student was saying, and I told her my side of the story. She said OK and let me get back to class. A few minutes later, this student returns to the room and asks me how to do the worksheet.
Lesson - If you cheat, and you get caught, just own up to it. You're not getting away with anything, no matter how many principals you get involved. Chances are the principals won't side with you.
In case you don't know, Angela's Ashes is a memoir. While we were reading it, our writing project was to create our own memoirs. My intention was, in the last semester of high school, to give my students the opportunity to reflect on their lives so far as they were about to leave school behind and cross one of the first big thresholds of life. I let them know that, for any of them that wanted, I would bind it all together for them as a keepsake, something they could take with them and look at in the future to remember what life looked like when they were eighteen. I would have loved to have something like that from when I was in school. Anyway, I told them all that only one student got to give a valedictorian speech, but every student's experiences and insights were just as important as the valedictorian's. So in our class, we'd all be writing valedictorian speeches. This would be the final chapter of our memoirs. Oh, how they hated this idea. I knew that most of them wouldn't start on it until the last minute, which would mean I wouldn't be able to help them with the papers - and this was a big grade. So I made the rough draft twenty percent of the grade - only so that I could actually get a rough draft out of them and be able to help them refine their work. If they didn't turn in a rough draft, the highest grade they could get was an 80. So most people turned in a rough draft. I was very impressed. Hopeful. As I'm reading through them, I come across two that are identical. My hopes start to waver. One of them had copied off the other, and I didn't know which. Then it occurred to me...what if both of them had copied off of somebody else? I googled a phrase and quickly found the entire paper online. I tried it with another paper, same thing. At this point, grading the rough drafts had a new component. If I couldn't find your paper online with a minute of research, I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you actually wrote it. When I passed back the rough drafts, I told the class that I'd found a lot of their papers online, and that those people would get zero points for the rough draft. I then stressed that if they wanted to pass, they really needed to turn in a real rough draft anyway, despite receiving no credit for it.
Lesson - If you're the type of student who would copy a paper off the internet, it's fairly likely that you're not the kind of student who would write as well as a valedictorian, and your teacher probably knows this.