Put it in Your Own Words

A 10th grade boy explaining the way he gets around being caught plagiarizing:

“I copy and paste and then I make some changes so the grammar sounds bad.  If I dumb it down the teacher thinks I did it – works every time.”

Seriously? Students copy and paste things and then make them sound incorrect so we will think they wrote it themselves?  How do we stop this?  I was so disturbed by this statement for so many reasons.  I know there are many ways to “catch” students plagiarizing, but how do we stop them from thinking this way? First of all, he said it straight to me.  It was as though he thought even if he told me about it, I wouldn’t be able to “catch” him.  The worst part is that this student is brilliant.  He has the capability to write an amazing paper, but instead he focuses his energy on finding ways to cheat.  Instead of attempting to write something incredible, he believes he has to dumb down something that someone else wrote.  He believes that the quality of his work is equivalent to another person’s work, but purposely changed to be incorrect.  How do I get him back on track?  I guess the better question is – how do we, as teachers, get him, and all the other who think the same way, back on track?    Anyone have the magical answer?


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Students Write The Darndest Things

A 10th grade boy’s response to a bell ringer that asked students to write a summary of their favorite movie or book:

*no editing was done to this writing

“Hotel Rwhanda is my favorite movie at the moment.  The reason it is my favorite movie is because it was shot in Africa, and they don’t have bellringers there.  I also like Blood diamond, where they talk about diamonds, and not Bellringers.  I also enjoy the movie Sahara, which is if Africa.  In that movie they work on fixing the water, and not on bellringers.”

Maybe I should have been upset about this response, but I must admit that it made me laugh.  It is important to know that this student is very respectful and hard-working.  He walked into class this day complaining about bell ringers.  The school has required that all teachers begin their class with a bell ringer and he gets frustrated doing 5 of them each day.  I must admit that I understand the way he is feeling.  High school is tough.  The day is long, the expectations are high, and students are expected to come into class and get to work right away.  I am the type of teacher who believes in giving students a few minutes to talk with their friends as class begins, but I am also required to follow through on school policies.  The idea is that bell ringers will encourage students to get to class on time and fix the excessive tardy problem.  Unfortunately, it has not helped so far.  Many students still come to class late or choose to talk with their friends and consistently lose points on the bell ringer.  Rather than choosing not to do the assignment, he let his frustration be known through it.  While I could not give him full credit because he did not complete the task, I did appreciate his sense of humor.  I don’t know how strongly the school enforces the policy, but I think it is time to try something different.  In my classroom, at least, I’d like students to have a few minutes to socialize at the beginning of class.  This way, they don’t feel the need to talk as much during instruction.  I know what it’s like to be a teenager and want to tell your friends about something.  When you are consistently told not to, you will keep trying.  If you are allowed to get it out, perhaps the rest of the time in class will be more productive.

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We Can’t Change Where We Come From

An 10th grade boy during a conversation with the teacher about setting goals for the future and discussing things that might get in the way of reaching those goals:

“You don’t know what we’re going through.  You aren’t from the hood.”

This is not a new idea.  Through all of my schooling, I continually discussed the challenge that middle-class white female teachers often have when they are hired to work in urban schools.  These discussions, however, take place in a room filled with primarily middle-class white females.  This being the case, I was surprised to see how this plays out in the classroom.  On most days, I don’t think it is as clearly stated as it was during this discussion.  At this moment, however, it became clear that the students saw me as a person of privilege.  No matter what I did or said, I can’t change who I am or where I came from.   I don’t think this makes me a bad teacher, nor do I think it means that the students don’t like or respect me.  I honestly believe they do, but this doesn’t change the fact that this disconnect exists.  This is a challenge that many teachers face, especially teachers who want to work towards educational equity for all.

During a recent visit to the high school I graduated from (which has a predominantly white, middle-class population), I spoke with some of my old teachers about the issues I was facing during my student teaching.  One of the newer teachers overheard the conversation and recommended that I read a book she read during graduate school.  Although she never taught in an urban school, she believes this book could be incredibly helpful for me in my current situation.  It will be interesting to see how the semester continues and if any of the ideas in this book will impact my teaching.  I look forward to open dialogue with my students about this idea – their honesty is incredibly valuable.


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What is Learning, Really?

11th grade girl upon being asked why she is struggling in her math class:

“We’re not learning anything, we’re just flying through the book.”

She discussed her frustration with a teacher who shows an example and then has students work in their workbooks for the duration of class. When students ask for more help they are encouraged to visit a tutor, but many don’t have time or transportation to take advantage of the tutoring offered at school.

It’s interesting that the student seems to know the difference between covering content and actually learning, but her teacher might not be.  Sometimes we don’t give students enough credit for realizing why they are not able to master a skill or reach an understanding on a topic.  It makes me truly sad that we have students who could be teaching some of their teachers how to teach.    We need to listen to them.  Aren’t they the reason we are all in the classroom? If not, maybe we shouldn’t be in the classroom.

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Grandkids are Great Teachers Too

A 10th grade girl approaching the teacher after class:

Student – “How do you teach someone how to read”

Teacher – “Well, a good way to see if they are comprehending is to have them read to you and stop them every paragraph or so to . . . “

Student – “No.  I mean read.  Like, my granddaddy does not know how to read and I want him to be able to.  What do I do?”

Wow.  What an incredible young adult.  Initially, I might have responded the same way this teacher did.  After further clarification, however, it is clear that this student needs some information on how to teach the basics.  This conversation made me realize that students do see the need to be literate in this society.  I did some research, looked through books from my undergraduate years as an Elementary Education major, gave this student some materials and have asked her to share her experience with the class if she feels comfortable.  I am so excited to see how this will unfold and so amazed by this young woman and her patience, dedication, and love for her family.  I’m hoping this student will provide more quotable quotes because I am certain her experience will allow for some wonderful teachable moments.

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I Don’t Want to Read

A 10th grade girl upon being told that she could choose to visit the library and check out books or research on the computer for her upcoming project:

“Well, I’ll do it on the computer.  I’m not going to
read if I don’t have to.”

In this ever-changing world of new technology and new ideas of what it means to be literate, this quote is incredibly telling.  Apparently, this student believes that if she doesn’t have a book in her hands, she is not reading. She seems to have a negative affectation towards the reading she has encountered in her life.  I am sure she is not alone in this feeling.  This makes me believe, even more strongly, in the importance of educating our students on what it means to be a reader.  We need to capitalize on their interest in using the computer as a tool. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for removing all books from the classroom, but if we can get students to understand literacy on a broader level, maybe students that haven’t found success in the classroom will be able to find it.

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Brilliance in Simile

I’ll begin with a bit of brilliance that has stuck with me for a long time.  I must give credit where credit is due.  My older sister, a middle-school math teacher, shared this quote with me and I will never forget it.

A 6th grade boy during a discussion about smoking sections in restaurants:

“It’s ridiculous.  The smoke always travels to the non-smoking section.  That’s like having a peeing section in a pool!”

And they weren’t even learning about similes!

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