Today, it happened again. A very sneaky girl (let’s call her Ichigo) gave her friend (let’s call her Momo) a looksie at her paper. Ok so, Ichigo and Momo are both good students, and I rarely have any issues with them. Which is why I was surprised when I came around to discover the ultimate sin of my classroom.
Copying someone else’s work!!!
As a person who grew up in the good ol’ U.S. of A school system, I am very much anti-cheating/ copying /plagiarizing. At the particular high school I work at, it’s considered “teamwork” by a decent amount of teachers, much to my absolute displeasure. I’m fully aware that everyone has done this at some point in their high school career, usually for homework, but in class?! No, I will never allow it!
Thus, I walked over to the girls, who froze in their seats with wide eyes. They knew that I knew they had been caught out. Unlike perhaps a couple of boys who tried to sleep through my classes, these two smart ladies couldn’t feign ignorance, they couldn’t protest my next move. Both of them had cultivated a reputation with me on knowing English well, being good students, knowing the rules.
“We do not copy in my class!” I proclaimed, snatching Ichigo’s paper away.
Ichigo and Momo both tried to talk me out of walking away with the half-finished paper, but it did them no good. I resolutely sauntered back to the front of the class, procured a new sheet, and returned to Ichigo. Momo suddenly realized that her paper was fine. That was the point: the person who let another person copy was the one who suffered the most. The copier was left with the guilt of their actions. In Japan, guilt is effective, shame even more so.
Ichigo grumbled to herself as she had to redo her entire paper again. Meanwhile, Momo floundered, realizing she must do this assignment on her own. Bum bum buuuuum!!!
For those of you who might think I’m a monster, allow me to explain the assignment.
The students only had to write their everyday activities. For example, “On Monday I am going shopping. On Tuesday I am playing baseball after school. On Wednesday I’m singing a song at karaoke.” All the way through the week, and that’s it. I allowed them to look into their textbooks for examples (specifically so the two boys in my class who were a bit slower than the rest could get ideas). The assignment wasn’t a Herculean effort to accomplish, Momo was just lacking the confidence to do it.
Cheating as well as copying are often symptoms of a lack of confidence, not a lack of interest, at least from my experience. I have many students who simply don’t understand English because they have this mental block from years of getting “Grammar Rules are God!” things drilled into their heads. They stumbled mentally to connect what they learn in textbooks to real life application because they get caught up on the stupid language rules.
Momo is a “good student” in that she usually follows all the rules given to her by teachers. Today, she was faced with conflicting rules: be perfect at English grammar and no copying papers. She knew she couldn’t be perfect at the English grammar, so she gambled with breaking the no copying rules. The odds weren’t in her favor this time, so now she’s faced with the reality that she might fail in both endeavors. Failure for Japanese students is often akin to shameful behavior, and that sucks for us English teachers.
I need for her to make mistakes, or as she views in her eyes as “failure.” Without these mistakes, I can’t help her to improve. It’s a Catch 22, and I have to toe that fine line between asking too much of her and not. Ichigo is going to be fine, she not only has the confidence, she can very well teach other students what she knows.
I encouraged Ichigo to do so when I said, “You,” I pointed at her, “can give Momo examples, but you can’t give her your paper. Help with spelling too! You can do it. I believe in you.” Ichigo did, brightening up a bit at the praise. She leaned over to talk with Momo, and I did something that might shock you. I walked away.
Ichigo and Momo aren’t the only students who need help in this class, of course. I dealt out my punishment, no need to hover. I move from desk to desk, helping out others with issues translating Japanese to English, some spelling questions, etc. After about ten minutes, I return to Ichigo and Momo.
Ichigo had finished a new paper while Momo was still trying. I could tell their papers were turning out differently, so I was pleased. Even if Momo didn’t finish the assignment today, I was going to be happy she wasn’t leaning on her friend’s knowledge of English. A crutch is only useful when you’re broken, not when you already know how to walk and are moving on to how to jog.
I graded Ichigo’s paper, told her to use it for the speaking test next week. Momo came up last in the class, but I noticed with pride there was only one mistake. I had her correct it, and then she was given full marks. I always give my students a chance in class to correct their mistakes for full points (see, not a monster). She was smiling, happy that she got it done just in time.
And I would like to believe that perhaps, just maybe, she gained one more stepping stone towards English confidence. I don’t want her to fall back on old bad habits, so hopefully she’ll remember how Ichigo had to do her work all over again, and won’t repeat the copying problem. With the full marks in the grade book, she’s realized that it’s better to try at something she won’t be perfect at rather than take credit for someone else’s work.
In university, copying does equal plagiarism, so she could get kicked out of her undergraduate studies. Momo can’t take credit when she gets a job if someone else does the work, she’ll get fired. There have been many a Momo and Ichigo in my classroom, boys and girls (and others who identify as neither). I believe it’s my job to prepare them for all of it, not just the writing and speaking in English responsibilities.
For those of you who think Momo might hold a grudge, at the end of class when I asked for a volunteer to return the classroom key (we use a free room), she was the first one to raise her hand. She also apologized, with a smile, not a single bit of sarcasm or hatred in her tone.
“Thank you!” I said as I left.
Her, being the cheeky one that she is, asked, “Bonus pointo onegaishimasu!”
So as you can see, not only was she fine, but she had the nerve to ask for bonus points afterwards. Kids bounce back from discipline if it’s fair, if it’s not breaking their spirits, and if they understand that they are in the wrong from the get go. Ichigo was with her, laughing as I walked off to my next class. I’m not worried about them getting bent out of shape.
After all, everyone knows it’s a rule in my classroom. They may not understand all the intricacies of why I do what I do, but they also understand I’m not going to be meaner to them for breaking rules. No one gets favoritism, and no one gets more punishments than the others. Everyone is treated with discipline regardless of marks. Momo and Ichigo know it, and I think in time maybe they’ll come to appreciate it.
Or maybe not, at least I tried! Trying is all we teachers can really do, so until I’m blue in the face I’ll keep shouting, “No copying in my classroom!”