How To Use Turnitin.com and Why

I’m a big fan of the website Turnitin.com, which assists in grading written work and in checking for plagiarism. If you’re a teacher and your school doesn’t subscribe, bug your admin until they get it for you.

It streamlines the writing process, collects all documents and communication electronically, simplifies feedback, and even reveals nearly any kind of cheating a student writer may have done (it was even once used to demonstrate that a professor at UNLV was a serial plagiarist and got him fired!).

It’s thanks to things like this that I don’t carry around boxes of papers to grade any more–all I need is a computer–and it even goes faster, since I don’t have to laboriously scribble my sorry handwriting on each paper. And everything is automatically documented! (More than once, I’ve had a parent insist that their perfect angel turned in an assignment that I’ve marked missing, and where I used to only have my word to go on, I can now take a screen shot of the empty submission page and send it to the parent.)

Last year I put together this quick illustrated user guide for teachers. In case it might be useful for any of you out there in Internet Land, here it is. I also hope you enjoy looking for the little jokes I worked in.

TurnitinGuideHuston

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Students Cheating On Me

Once again, for about the umpteenth time this year, I find myself having to deal with students I’ve caught cheating in my class.  It makes me angry, it makes me discouraged, and it makes me feel…cheap.

Yes, cheap.  Like I’ve been used.  Like it wasn’t just my test but me, personally, who was cheated on. 

It’s not that silly of an analogy.  I try to trust students, want to enjoy our time in class, working on something I deeply feel to be important, only to find that I’ve been lied to.  Like anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship–even a work relationship–I have to wonder how many times it’s happened before, when I haven’t caught them.  How many days have I spent giving them the best of myself that I could, totally blind to the fact that they were consciously deceiving me, making a mockery of everything I thought our working relationship stood for? 

Actually, all these instances of dishonesty in the classroom make me feel worse than cheated on.  If some students are so set on simply getting to that reward at the end of the relationship–the grade, that fun payoff that they feel entitled to indulge in, without all the messy work, discipline, and sacrifice that goes into naturally earning the fruits of relationships–you know what that makes me in the cheater’s eyes?  A prostitute.  “Don’t bore me with all that sappy stuff about commitment and responsibility; just gimme the answers I want.”  Isn’t that nice? 

I don’t know how such dishonest, fraudulent working relationships work in real life, but in my classroom metaphor, I can tell you that once the truth has been exposed to me, I certainly lose all respect for the cheaters who think they can use me and what I work for like some kind of object who exists to serve them. 

It gets difficult sometimes to work with people who clearly have no respect for school.  I’ll take this opportunity to echo what a local newspaper editor wrote two days ago about more children needing to drop out of school.

An Anti-Teacher Witch Hunt

News outlets reported on Thursday that Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pennsylvania, had been suspended, pending termination, for writing critical comments about her students on her blog. 

According to the articles (such as here and here), she had written that her students were “lazy” and “whiners,” among other things.  My initial thought was to ask if she had directed comments at any certain students, or called them by name.  It appears that she hadn’t.  She did, however, use profanity on the blog; while it is unclear from the reports if it was directed at the students, it probably was, and that would be wrong–abusive language is never appropriate.  She also seems to have made comments about children’s physical appearances, and written things like, “I hate your kid.”  Yes, that’s over the line.

But the headlines, the complaints against her, and the comments on articles I’ve read mostly excoriate her for criticising students in general, not for the inappropriate content itself.  Parents and students at the school are outraged that a teacher could write about frustrations over poor student performance. 

Really?  Have any of the offended parties here bothered to consider what merit the criticisms might have?  Is it really so awful to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some teens actually are lazy whiners? 

Before anyone goes crying “Blasphemy!” and prepares to storm my castle with pitchforks and torches, can you see the irony of the situation?  If the teacher here was saying that her students and their parents are self-absorbed and entitled, how exactly is their response proving her wrong? 

About a year and a half ago, a report was released which studied 30,000 American teens and found that a third of teens are thieves, two thirds are cheaters, and about 80% lie to their parents.  Fully 93%, however, said that they are proud of their good character.  Wow. 

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Cheating FAIL

Grading a quiz today about a novel students are reading, I found that in answer to the question, “Who is the author?” one student must have sneaked a peek at the book’s cover somehow (a no-no I’d tried to prevent before the quiz started) and written down…the name of the publshing company.  No, student X, Animal Farm was not wirtten by McDougal Littell. 

I wrote next to it: “Cheating FAIL.”

Even worse, the student next to that one also had the publisher’s name written down in answer to the question, but spelled it wrong. 

I wrote next to that one: “Copying FAIL.”

This is an honors class, by the way.

Parents of the Week: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

THE GOOD

A boy in an honors class mocked an assignment on Tuesday with his partner, then decided to declare to everyone that “this class is pointless.”  I called him on it, and he wasn’t the least bit ashamed or penitent. 

I called his mother and she was mortified.  She apologized profusely and asked to come in to see me and have him apologize, even asking if she could sit in class with him next time.  We met before school Thursday and she read him the riot act.  I showed her his work from that day, which was by far the shortest, sloppiest paper from the class.  I said I’d like him to do it over, and she assured me it would be done over the weekend, adding that any future work that was of substandard quality would also be revised to my liking. 

After this had all been explained, I asked him if he understood.  He sat silently until his mother told him to answer with, “Yes, sir.”  He sullenly said, “Yes.”  She told him again to be more respectful, threatening to smack him if he didn’t.  He again responded with attitude, so she reached around and slapped him on the back of the head.  This time he said, “Yes, sir.” 

She thanked me for my effort and assured me again that he would perform better, in academics and behavior.  I have no doubt that he will. 

 

THE BAD

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Worst. Cheater. Ever.

Here’s one to add to my collection of cheating stories.  Yesterday, I passed some papers out that had been turned in for homework to another class.  We would review it as we went over the answers and they graded the papers.  As I started going over it, one girl, sitting right in the front of the room–right in front of me, in fact–pulled out her blank paper and started writing down the answers as I gave them out.  I stood there–right there–looking at this and wondering if she’d really have the gall to try to turn this in.

Sure enough, after I finished the review and the papers had been graded and were getting passed back up, she hurriedly stuck her paper in the stack.  I pulled it out and showed it to her, trying not to laugh, and said, “Kid, I have to be honest.  In ten years of teaching, this is the single worst attempt at cheating that I’ve ever seen.”  I pointed out that, for one thing, the papers that had been graded weren’t even those of the current class, but from a period earlier in the day, so that her one paper from this last class of the day would kind of stick out.  She didn’t even try to fake the “graded by” signature that teachers expect.   

At first she didn’t have anything to say, then tried to play it off by laughing and saying, “I didn’t know that was cheating.”  Of course, if she didn’t know it was cheating, then she wouldn’t have tried shoving her paper into the stack when she thought I wasn’t looking (even though, again, I was standing right by her desk), and she wouldn’t have marked two of her answers wrong just to make it look more authentic.  (Actually, I have to give her some credit for that.  Most cheaters just turn in perfect papers and think it doesn’t look suspicious.) 

Well, we’ll see if the dean can get some sense into her.  For my part, this is just another sign of a post-ethical generation sleazing its way into the world.  *sigh*

Cheating Stories

When people find out that I’m a teacher, the first thing they always want to talk about is just how bad the students and parents are these days.  Of course, I have plenty of stories tokeep them happy, but before long I try to steer the conversation to a much funnier topic: cheating stories.  These also demonstrate, in their own way, civilizational decline, but with much more pleasant humor. 

Hollywood has trained us to see cheaters as bored rebels who have ingenious ways of fooling teachers.  I wish that were true: it would be an improvement on the truth, which is that most cheaters are dumb as bricks, which is why they cheat in the first place.  Sadly, they don’t even do it remotely well.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • One student essay was surprisingly good, so much so that I knew it was copied.  The only question was where the student got it from.  The mystery was solved when I got to the last paragraph of the “essay,” which said that if this introduction had whetted the readers’ appetites, they would want to jump right into chapter 1 and continue the book. 
  • I’ve read about the many, expensive essay-for-hire companies on the Internet, and have always wanted to get a sample of their work.  Unfortunately, I never have.  Whenever I suspect a student of submitting an essay not of their own composition, I just type the first line into Google, and almost always get the source right away.  The most common source for these “essays” turns out to be the plot summaries of novels on SparkNotes.
  • I’ve had several “essays” turned in with a date and web address automatically printed at the bottom of each page; they didn’t even bother to paste it into Word, they just printed their stolen work straight off the Internet and put their name on it.
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