This is a bit of a rant against the internet. (I know how ironic it is…considering how I’m sharing this on the web!)

Most of my assignments this term have been opinion pieces or personal response pieces. They’re nothing requiring straight-up summary since summarizing isn’t a great way to demonstrate critical thinking.

So what am I doing wrong that TWO students this week plagiarised word-for-word from the internet?

Incident #1: English 10

The student was to use a provided quotation from a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird to make one or two connections to the chapter, and elaborate on personal thoughts/opinions/connections to the idea from the quote.

I suggested spending a paragraph or two exploring the quotation and connections, and giving related opinions and thoughts. (I haven’t gotten the class to the point of choosing their own quotations yet, but that’s the next step.)

The assignment that was turned in was simply a summary of the chapter, courtesy of sections of Spark Notes and ENotes.


Incident #2: English 11

This one was probably (partly) my fault, but I wanted to be fair.

I gave the class a day’s notice to develop an opinion on aspects of Macbeth. I shared the list of statements and topics, and told students to argue for one side and use examples from the play to support the opinions expressed. They would write their opinion pieces in class the next day.

One student was on vacation for a week or so and missed the writing class. When he returned, I extended him the same courtesy and shared the list of topics. He was a no-show for the make-up session, so I pulled him aside another day during my class to write in a supervised area. I’ll have to follow-up on Monday with the adult supervisor about whether this student used his smartphone.

The opinion piece the student turned in was copied from a 2008 teacher’s class blog that had 16 student essays on Macbeth posted for comments and critiques. If this student didn’t use his smartphone, then that meant he spent days memorizing every word of that essay.

Maybe I shouldn’t have given him the list of topics ahead of time. He is having huge difficulties with English 11 and expressing himself at grade level. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been tempted to copy if he didn’t have time to look?

The main reason why I was able to spot these two plagiarised pieces is because my students write a lot in class. Since I read their work every day or every few days, I’ve become very familiar with their writing styles and how they express themselves. My radar goes off when a student suddenly writes differently.

This week has made me rethink the internet and English classes. Now I understand why using something more secure like Moodle would be good for assignments submitted electronically.