Friday, November 20, 2009

If only I had known


Every writing instructor has to deal with the occasional case of plagiarism. Students wait too late to write a paper, then panic and steal others' online writing. Sometimes they don't cite sources properly. Other times they simply cut and paste whole articles. Either way, it's bad bad bad.

This year I have had almost zero cases of cheating, which is amazing. My students have been doing some darned good writing, and I'm so proud of them. The lack of plagiarism this year also reflects the fact that I completely revised my assignments and essay prompts so that my criteria are more creative. It's virtually impossible for my students to cheat on 3 out of their 4 essay cycles. However, one of the papers was a more traditional research essay, and sure enough, one of the students turned in an essay that was patched together from at least three different websites. Maybe about a page of it--maybe--was his own.

So, I called him out on it and sat him down to talk about the essay. I asked him to tell me what happened with it. What were the first words out of his mouth?

"Well, when I turned this paper in in high school, my teacher gave me a 95 on it, so I thought it would be great for this class."

[blink]

Oh! Well, that changes everything! If only I had known...

Hmmm. A penny for your thoughts, dear readers? Is there any logical way to respond to this without a) wringing said student's neck, or b) banging my own head against the wall at the same time? What would you do (besides epic fail the paper, of course)?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Works Cited

I really can't make this stuff up. It's too good! See my student's works cited page below. Read allllll the way to the bottom.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

honest x-mas

Last year I posted my Christmas list and (much to my surprise) people actually shopped from it! There were only a few things on my list, such as CDs or books or TV shows on DVD, that I didn't need, but only wanted, and those were the things I didn't receive. I'm actually glad about that. I don't need stuff. Our families were so generous--they always are--and we were blessed more than I ever imagined we could be with the thoughtfulness of those who love us. This Christmas, we want to spend time with family, and that's the best gift. Our families love Jesus and celebrate Him, and that is why we can't wait to see them again during the holidays.

This year, I'm asking solely for things that I need, will use, and/or already have a place for.

1. bookends.

Somehow, in all my years of college+grad school and the hundreds of books that Scott and I own, we don't have any bookends. Actually, we have one. We have one bookend. I think I bought it for about 30 cents at a fellow grad student's yard sale. He only had one, otherwise I would have bought two. The one doesn't help us much, being all alone in the world. I would LOVE (and could totally use!) one or two pairs of bookends.

2. sitting pillow

Because of our abbreviated living space and not having a large comfy couch, I do a lot of my grading of papers and reading in bed. I have some neck and back problems, so a pillow that would let me sit up instead of propping up awkwardly on pillows would be a very helpful, very useful gift. I found this one, which seems pretty simple. I've also seen something called the BedLounge which looks like the Ritz Carlton of sitting pillows. Yowzah.

3. colored ink pens

I go through a pen about every three days since I do so much grading, writing, revising, commenting on drafts, ect. I love using colored pens on my students' papers because it keeps me awake, and when I run out I have to use boring blue and black. I'm not an equal-opportunity pen user. I like colored ink pens and gel pens, and I do need and use them.

4. tennis shirt and skirt or shorts

Scott and I have been playing tennis for a few years now, and I've never had the right "gear" for it. I don't have any athletic shorts with pockets, which it's essential to have when you're playing tennis and need a place for tennis balls. I usually wear old t-shirts and running shorts when we play, and I'm never comfortable because they're not right for the sport. Since we started taking faculty tennis classes together at the college where we teach, I think I would play better if I could have proper tennis clothes to wear to class each week. I would probably need to try these on before purchasing, though...so perhaps a gift card to a sporting goods store?

5. an attachable book lamp and/or book stand

These are pretty self-explanatory and would be used everyday.

6. Coffee grinder

Ours broke from overuse. Ha!

7. A few other kitchen helps: cheese slicer, garlic press, zester, round pizza pan

8. A new non-stick frying pan, since ours has been turning into a stick frying pan.

So...not a super-exciting list, but at least it's honest. These are things that would make my life (full of marriage, three jobs, grad school, and crazy California nonsense) a lot easier in 2010.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poultry moments

As a teacher of college writing, I see more than your average number of typos, diction errors, crazy punctuation combinations, and free-floating quotations. In fact, it is my job to try to teach the young and (often) unwilling students how to be successful writers at the college level, and I take my job seriously. It takes oodles more time to teach writing than to teach literature--not only because there is about 1000% more grading--but because I am really trying to invest in their lives by teaching a skill that they might never again be forced to sit down and learn. Literature may or may not play a large role in their lives. I hope it does, and I encourage them to read and read widely, but I can't force them to enjoy the task. However, their ability (or inability, in some cases) to write well will affect their lives, regardless of their future plans for themselves. I am convinced of this. That is why, when I was handed an essay arguing against using animals in scientific research last week, I was optimistic and looking forward to reading the essay. Until I got to this sentence:

"The U. S. government should be much more protective of primates, especially chickens."

Do I laugh? Do I cry? Do I quit and head for the proverbial hills? No, I wrote the ever-appropriate comment in the margin: Nope. Check your source on this one [with "chickens" underlined].

So, I set up a meeting with the young lady to discuss the essay, because the remaining pages were virtually indecipherable. Hopefully I'll be able to help her today during my lunch break. All I have to say is that teaching writing is not for the weak. Or for those without a sense of humor.

For example, one of my football players turned in an argument essay about how it's easier for an athlete to receive new concussions once they've already had one in the past (apparently he's already sustained four concussions in two years), but he wrote, "By the time I got to the hospital, it still took awhile for me to regain my conscience."

All laughing aside, it may take years for me to regain my conscience after reading all these papers and chuckling (sometimes for hours on end). I love my students. I encourage them. I care about them. I pray for them. I teach them well. All I can do is nurture their brains the best I can while they're in my classroom, because once they find their way into the big big scary world out there with a questionable grading curve, they will need to have consciences, rudimentary knowledge about primates, and, of course, basic writing skills.