I think I got it from my dad, but that's a matter for analysis.
In this case, I enable cheating. In this particular case, there were two approved courses of action, but I don't think that I took the better of two.
This has to do with the two sets of cheaters in a previous post. I contacted all four and got four responses that all fit together. That is, the two who wrote original papers all said that they had loaned their papers to other students to use as examples; and the two who copied papers admitted that they had "borrowed" from the first two. There are a few more details, but they are not particularly important here.
This should be clear cut, right? Two people copied, word for word, from two other people. You don't find a better example of the definition of cheating than that. Flunk them and turn them in to higher powers.
Instead, I give them a second chance, explaining that what they did was wrong and that I could turn them into higher powers. Maybe they don't turn in the second chance paper, thereby earning a 0, maybe they do. In either case, I'm not really dealing with the cheating in a way that demonstrated true consequences.
Now, I can guess what you are thinking -- some of you have expressed it quite succinctly! My initial reation was the same: What a pair of entitled brats! Do they think I am that stupid? I must confess that, had these two students been the sort who rarely show up, turn in half-assed assignments when they bother to turn them in at all, and general let you know that they really don't respect you or what you do, I would have taken great schadenfreude in sending them to the (interim) Dean of Students.
These two, however, don't act like disrespectful, entitled brats. They show up to every class, they take notes, they do moderately well on quizzes (yes, I give quizzes -- they are the enticement to read the book and engender good study habits), and for all appearances are making an effort to do well in the class.
Additionally, the type of cheating that these two did -- well, who does that type of cheating after 5th grade? Sure, you have students who copy from student is other or previous classes, students who copy from the internet, and students who copy from books. In other words, most students who cheat at least make some effort to cover their tracks. They don't copy, word-for-word, from a classmate's paper.
So, what is the deal here?
The students who wrote the original papers are native English speakers. They are as comfortable with the language as your average college freshman. The students who copied are not native-English speakers. As evidenced in their in-class assignments and previous assignments, their writing skills in English are quite weak. This alone would have tipped me off if they had attempted to cover their copying through other methods (except I wouldn't have been able to prove anything there, which is a situation that I have encountered in other instances).
Given their poor English writing skills, given their general desire to do well, given that I had marked up their previous writing assignments in an effort to help them with their writing skills -- given all of this, I think what the did was panic. In their panic, they just copied, hoping that I wouldn't notice, or hoping that I would assume that they worked with the other student as a group, or just trying to buy some time before they were caught. I think they thought that they might get away with it because I encourage them all to study in groups. I think they did not comprehend the part in which I said, "but you must turn in your own work."
Then I became both suspicious and curious. At our school, you have to pass a test on basic written English before you can take even the most basic of composition classes. If you don't pass, you have to take classes until you can. Then, you have to have taken a semester of freshman composition before you can take my class. I've seen the instructors of those classes at work. They are tough. They take no crap, and ride their students hard. Heck, I might not do so well in their classes!
The quality of the in-class writing and earlier writing, however, made me wonder how these students got through those classes. "Every now and then one slips through," said my chair, who himself is also an American English Language instructor.
"Yeah," I thought. "I understand that; but how do they slip through?"
Forgive me for thinking this. Based on this case and a few others that raised my antennae but which I couldn't prove, I started to wonder if some students who understand the material, but know their limitations at this point in their acquisition of English, compensate by copying or plagiarizing or otherwise cheating. They have the ability to do well in school; the language is the main barrier to the good grades that lead to graduation or transfer that ultimately lead to better job prospects, upward mobility and all of the things that people go to college to attain.
Still, copying doesn't solve the basic problem that these students seem to face. First of all, it doesn't improve their command of English which comes from the practice of writing. Second, in copying, they don't really engage in the process of the assignment, and therefore genuinely demonstrate their ability to understand the material.
To punish them by initiating academic dishonesty proceedings is fair, but somehow not quite right a response. My response wasn't particularly effective either. On the one hand, they get the consequence of a 0 if they don't redo the assignment and they get the practice of writing if they do. On the other, they could easily see this as a narrow escape and continue to do the same thing in the future.
I talked to my chair about this. Again, he is an ESL instructor, so has some sensitivity to the language problems facing immigrants. He hasn't had so blatant an example of cheating as this, but he did understand the ways that non-native English speakers work their way through both the language and this end-of-the-semester panic. He approved of my solution, as I wrote. He also told me that he has his students turn in any big writing assignments at mid-term, and refers any problems to the writing center at that point. They can turn in the revised assignment at the final. That's a good idea; but I've done some of that, and still this.
I think what I want is to send them back to those basic English classes so that they can get a better command of the language and then do better in the rest of their courses; but you can't make them re-take classes that they've already passed, no matter how much they seem to need it.
As I work my way through this by writing it, I'm seeing that they were still in the wrong. I did refer the students to the writing center. They did go. They know the rules. I can be as understanding about the language issue and the desire to perform well as possible, but they still copied from someone else.
In giving them that second chance -- which will be the last that I give -- I'm not sure that I did anyone any favors except maybe the administrators that would have to deal with the issue as it moved up the hierarchy. If those administrators want to give the students second chances, I don't have a problem with that. Right now, I'm feeling a little culpable in something vaguely fraudulent, all because I really just wanted to be understanding and nice. Understanding isn't really a problem, but "nice" is.
The evils of "nice" are a subject for another post.
(By the way, I feel like a complete Ugly American shouting "learn English if you are going to live here" in writing this, but that's not what I mean. In this case, the problem lies between the acquisition of English and the attempt to perform well in school, with my job being to ensure that they do both.)