Dealing with Plagiarism in the Classroom

One of my biggest fears going into teaching was that I would catch a student cheating on a test or plagiarizing an assignment.  I have been extremely fortunate that I have only encountered 2 blatant acts of plagiarism total and about 1 instance of cheating per semester.  Kids always think they are being so subtle and sneaky, but that only makes it more obvious.  I mean really, how many people normally pull the leg of their shorts up every minute or so while taking a test and then record an answer.  Each instance of cheating was dealt with appropriately.  The acts of plagiarism were actually good learning experiences for me.  One was easy to deal with: two students essentially handed in the same essay with only 3-4 unique sentences.  The other one is a lesson I learned that I’ll never forget.

dealing with students who plagiarize

dealing with students who plagiarize

While student teaching, I assigned an activity where my students (juniors in honors US History) created a magazine spread to demonstrate what they learned about the 1920s.  They had to create the cover and a 3-6 page spread (depending on how big they wrote and how big their images were) detailing what they had learned about the people and events of the Roaring 20s.  Out of 150 students who completed this assignment, only 1 used a real magazine cover, that of Al Capone on Time Magazine.  When the student turned it in, I immediately noticed that his cover was not made from scratch like the others.

I held him back at the end of class and asked if he had made it himself, and he readily admitted he had not.  I asked again to clarify if he had used an actual Time Magazine cover and he said yes.  I informed him that it was plagiarism and that he would temporarily have a 0 for the assignment until he redid the cover and made an original one.  I also let him know the highest grade he’d be able to get would be an A-.

Since I was only a student teacher, I wanted to make sure I followed through with pre-existing classroom plagiarism policies, but I also didn’t want to be the possible final straw in the student’s “I hate school/what’s the point” type mentality, so that’s why I gave him the opportunity to re-do his cover.  Well, I thought I was being more than reasonable, but he fought me on it saying he shouldn’t have to redo it.  After much more back and forth than I thought appropriate–it was spread out over 2 days!!!–I finally got his train of thought out of his head.

Apparently, my original instructions and rubric did not specify to create an “original” cover for the magazine spread, they just said to create a cover.  Now again, he was the only one out of 150 who didn’t make his own cover, but the lesson I learned from this situation was to, going forward, specify everything in the instructions that could potentially lead to a similar situation.  I now do that in the written instructions and while verbally going over assignments or activities with my kids.  The almost more important lesson I learned in this situation was that there’s no debating in a situation like this.  I never should have let the kid goad me into a debate, a back and forth, and I certainly never should have let it continue the next day.  If it is appropriate to the situation, I of course will happily have a discussion with a student over a misunderstanding or miscommunication, but never again the pleading, the whining, and the “but come on Mrs. L” or “it’s not *that* serious Mrs. L.”

In the heat of this situation, I was embarrassed that I was having to go back and forth with this kid and that he wouldn’t just do what I was asking, I feared that he’d lose respect for me and that the rest of the semester would go poorly, and I remember thinking if it’s this hard dealing with a simple case of plagiarism, what am I going to do when it’s a more serious case.  Thankfully I haven’t discovered other cases, it’s more the cheating that I catch about once a semester.  Oh, and the student in question did eventually turn in an original magazine cover for the assignment.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think other kids haven’t plagiarized, but I just haven’t caught it, though I do keep an eye open!  Maybe I have to keep both eyes open much wider…or maybe the kids are just getting a really good foundation in middle school and it’s translating to their high school academic moral compass.  For now let’s go with kudos to middle school teachers 🙂

Foodie Friday #5 Waffle Sliders

waffle sliders

waffle sliders

Summer is winding down, so that means we’re fitting in as many last minute family outings as possible.  There’s a super cute little town about 20 minutes from where we live right on the water.  It’s full of mom and pop eateries, independent shops, festivals, and parks.  First St. Cafe is one of our favorite places to have brunch in this town.  It has outdoor seating which is great with our 18 mo old daughter.  She’s in the obsessed with dogs phase so sitting outside she can ogle all the “woof-woofs” that go by, and it keeps her sitting at the table longer than were we to sit inside.

As many times as we’ve been there, I’ve somehow never discovered the amazingness that is their waffle sliders!  Belgian waffles, sausage, eggs, pepper jack cheese, and optional dipping syrup.  It was such an outstanding combination of flavors I didn’t even need the syrup!  If I were motivated enough, I’d invest in a waffle maker, learn how to make sausage (they of course use homemade sausage there), and recreate this at home every weekend!  Since I’m not that motivated, we’ll just be making more trips to First St. Cafe, because these sliders NEED to be eaten more than just once.  Well this was short sweet and to the point.  Waffle sliders=deliciousness!!!

Using Student Journals in a Secondary Classroom

journals blog post

It’s incredible how much you learn in just a few weeks of being in the classroom.  Not to knock my certification program, but there are just some things you can’t learn from a book, and there are some things that my professors couldn’t discuss due to time restrictions.  Some things that are part of my classroom routine are obvious when I think about them now, but weren’t before I began actually teaching.

Having a warm-up and recap each day were two of the more valuable lessons I learned while student teaching, but I wanted them to have real purpose for the students (and me!) and not just be busy work.  I have some earlier posts about some of my warm up and recap activities: you can read PART 1 HEREPART 2 HERE, and how Pinterest saved my recaps HERE.  Plus, I have 6 other strategies detailed in THIS FREEBIE.  With each group of kids I’ve had since student teaching, I have them keep a notebook specific to my class (separate from their note-taking notebook) because there needs to be a point to everything you have your students do.  These journals are where the students answer their warm up and recap questions/prompts, and complete activities to track their learning throughout the year.  Before I keep writing, “journal” might be a misleading word, based on elementary or English classroom usage across the grades, but I have yet to think of another appropriate enough term for them.

On Fridays, I sometimes have my kids answer questions in their journals such as, “what did you find most interesting this week…what was most boring…what should I change the next time I teach this topic…what should I do again the next time I teach this topic…what did you understand the most….what are you still confused about” and topic specific questions such as “which cause of World War 1 was the most responsible for war breaking out and why” or “explain the differences in Ancient Roman daily life for a slave, plebian, and patrician”…etc.

Giving my kids time to do some self-reflection allows them to process the week as a whole and how all the topics/people/events connect to each other.  It also gives me a better picture of what went well for students and which teaching techniques I need to reconsider/revamp going forward (my kids and I can absolutely have a different perspective on the success or failure of a lesson or how well the content was understood).

They also sometimes use their journals during class when I have them look at images or political cartoons and do some brainstorming on their meaning, individually or with a partner, before we continue the discussion.  Giving the kids the chance to develop and process their answers before contributing to a discussion has greatly improved the quality of our class discussions.

These journals help students track their progress throughout the year, and having real evidence in front of them of how their thought process has changed and improved throughout the semester or year gives them confidence and proof that they are in fact learning and not just regurgitating information for a test.

Full disclosure, it does take a decent amount of time to go through these, so I typically browse the journals of one period’s worth of students a week.  I’ll write some responses in the margins where appropriate so that the students have some direct feedback and a sort of year-long mini-conversation with me.  Time aside, I’ve found them to be extremely beneficial so I’ll continue incorporating them into my classroom routine.

Traveling Tuesday #3, Eagle’s Nest

One thing I try to impress on my students is that things aren’t always what they seem or what you expect.  Things change over time and that’s one reason why studying history from written, visual, and spoken records is so important.  What object A or place B was during 1850 isn’t necessarily what it is today.  That hit home for me in the summer of 2010 when I was able to visit Eagle’s Nest (one of Hitler’s birthday presents, to be used as a retreat/place for entertaining).  World War 2 and the Holocaust are my historical specialty, so even though my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we made a point of taking a tour of Eagle’s Nest.  To say it was slightly disappointing was an understatement.  For one thing, the weather was horribly overcast as you can see in the pictures below.

For another thing, there was only one room we saw on the tour that had been relatively unchanged since 1945 (if I recall correctly it was Eva Braun’s bedroom).  The rest of Eagle’s Nest had been turned into a restaurant!!!!!  So here I am, WW2 buff, super excited about being in SUCH a historic location that I never expected to get to, and it’s been turned into a restaurant!!!!  Standing in a room trying to hear the tour guide tell us about a fireplace that was original to when Eagle’s Nest was built while surrounded by people eating and plates and silverware clanking was less than ideal for appreciating the location we were in.

Yes it was cool that you walk through a tunnel and go up to the main building via an elevator, yes it was cool that I was standing where history had happened, but the atmosphere was that of a modern restaurant and the historian in me lamented that the building had not been turned into a museum or something that catered a bit more to historically minded tourists.  Well, it is what it is and I can still say I was there but it does make you think about how many other noteworthy buildings or artifacts, let alone every day type places from history, only exit in memory now or have been turned into banks, or have been bulldozed to make room for a shopping center, or their historic value have just been lost over time.  And yes I know not EVERYTHING can be preserved, but it does make me wonder what from today will still be around in 100 years for future people to visit and see to step back into our time.

Incorporating One of My Favorite Books into a WW2 Unit

Every history teacher has their favorite time period to study personally, topic to teach professionally, and topics they need or want to learn more about.  World War 2 and the Holocaust have always been my favorites.  I love Ancient Rome too, but WW2 and the Holocaust squeak by into the position of being my absolute favorites.  I love teaching the Revolutionary War, but strangely enough don’t do much personal reading on it.  Latin American history is something I always have to teach myself more about before we get to it in the classroom.

Since WW2 and the Holocaust are my favorite topics to read about and teach, it’s extra frustrating to know just how incredibly much is left out of textbooks (and yes, time and space reasons prohibit everything being included for every topic for every course, I know).  For many topics I take an extra few days or a week and I move beyond the textbook.  One of many ways I do this is by having students read excerpts from outside books in small groups and we have whole class discussions when they are done.

One of my favorite books to introduce to students is Children of the Flames.  It is about the experiments Dr. Mengele performed on twins and gypsies in Auschwitz.

This book is amazing on so many levels.  It mixes historical narrative with the memoirs of some survivors of Mengele’s experiments so it is an extremely quick read at 262 pages.  It will move you differently than other Holocaust accounts.  You grow attached to the twins and become invested in their survival.  Some survived with their twin, some without.  Some lived physically and mentally destroyed lives afterwards because of the effects of the experiments and some went on to be very successful personally and professionally.  As one survivor said, “On the surface we lead normal lives, but we have never escaped the long, dark, shadow of Mengele” ~Irene Hizme.

The book begins by giving readers a glimpse into the normal lives the twins had pre-war and then goes into how everything changed when Hitler came to power.  In the first section, there are also snippets describing Mengele as a boy and then how he came to his position at Auschwitz.  It next details how they were experimented on and how a few managed to survive, and it concludes by recalling how difficult it was for most of them to figure out how to start their lives over, let alone figuring out where to begin their lives.  For many survivors, they were the only ones left alive of both their families and towns.  Others had a few living relatives but it took years to locate them.  Many chose not to return to their original homes but instead moved to Israel, Australia, Britain, and America.

The content of the book is not sugarcoated, but if you teach it responsibly, it is appropriate for middle and high schoolers.  One of the most interesting questions I get asked when we get to this topic (because of the discussions which follow) is along the lines of, “but how could they actually have survived?”  I won’t put details here, but some of the experiments do make you question how a child or teenager ever could have survived, and some spent years in Auschwitz being experimented on.  The next logical question from students is always, “what kind of person can do that to anyone, especially kids?”  It’s one thing for me to tell the students about things that happened during the Holocaust, it’s another thing for them to hear about certain experiences from the mouths of those who lived it and that’s what always makes this hit home for them.

I am always amazed at the questions students ask and how they answer each other’s questions.  It’s one of those times where you really see how profound a teenager’s thoughts can be when given the opportunity.  Getting out of the textbook is always going to benefit your students, whether by reading other books, doing hands on activities, having guest speakers, or another method.

Don’t be afraid of the big/scary/deep topics.  They will push your students and you will be rewarded when you hear them talking about the subject matter deeper than you expected, even after moving on to other topics.  Do you have a favorite book you introduce to students?

If you want to read about other books to incorporate in the classroom, that are education oriented, or that teachers just loved, head over to the Literary Maven!

Literary Maven: On My Bookshelf

Literary Maven: On My Bookshelf

I’m a Guest Blogger Today!

Head over to Student Savvy at 3pm PDT today to read my guest post on making history come alive for students!  I recreate trench warfare for my students every year and I modified my original post for this great opportunity.  Plus, Student Savvy is an awesome blogger and has a ton of great teaching tips, tricks, articles, etc.

Get Students Excited and Engaged in the First 5 Minutes of Class, Part 2 of 2

Last week I wrote about how I sometimes play hangman and 2 truths and 1 lie to get my students engaged in the day’s lesson (click HERE to read that post).  Today I have two other methods to share with you (both are Pinterest inspired).

1)  I write the answer to a question on the board and in pairs or small groups and the students come up with 2 or 3 questions that the word or phrase could be an answer to.  I love hearing the variety of questions the students come up with, and they like competing with each other to try to think of the specific question I had thought of when I wrote the answer.  They also love trying to come up with any questions I had NOT initially thought of (find me a high school student who doesn’t like thinking of things his or her teacher hadn’t, lol).  When we have a good variety of questions, I tell them which question was the first one I thought of, I commend them for their correct questions I hadn’t thought of, I correct any questions that are incorrectly aligned with the answer, and we then begin the lesson.

play bingo and get your students excited about the lesson

play bingo and get your students excited about the lesson

2).  This method requires more prep than the others, but once every other week I try to have my students play Bingo to review the material from the day before and foreshadow what they will learn about today.  For logistical reasons with the bingo board, I read a definition/identification and they mark their paper on the word they think it corresponds to. We play until someone has “BINGO!”, as a class we make sure the winner’s board is correct, I clarify anything the kids were confused about, and then we start the lesson.  Depending on your students, putting them in pairs or groups of 3 could work, especially to make this take a bit less time if you’re on a 45 minute schedule.

With these 4 methods (from both posts), with the ideas in my Back to School items, and with a these 3 strategies (and I have one more post coming with 3 MORE strategies!), I don’t duplicate warm up and recap tactics during an almost 3 week period.  This is great for me because it keeps me on my teaching toes, and it’s great for my kids because it helps prevent them from becoming bored, complacent, or taking forever to settle down and get focused when they walk in the room.  The more we can do to prevent boredom in the classroom and increase the level of excitement and engagement the more the kids will be inclined to learn.

Get Students Excited and Engaged in the First 5 Minutes of Class, Part 1 of 2

Getting students engaged and excited at the start of the class becomes more of a challenge as the year goes on.  Every year (and sometimes semester) I have to come up with new ways of hooking the kids into the lesson, or giving them warm-ups, so that they get excited and stay engaged.  These are two ways I do just that.  (Part 2 is HERE)

excite and engage students in the first 5 minutes of class

excite and engage students in the first 5 minutes of class

1)  Play hangman!!!  My students get excited right when they walk through the door because they see hangman set up on the board.  I make the word or phrase they are trying to guess something related to the topic of the day.  Ideally, based on what they learned the day before, they should be able to make educated guesses about it, though depending on the students, I might have 1-3 questions or keywords related to the overarching topic on the board to act as clues.  We then have a quick discussion about how the answer they guessed for hangman connects to what they learned yesterday and what they will be learning that day.

2) Play two truths and a lie!!!  Sometimes I will have 3 statements written on the board about the topic for the day.  Using the information learned the day before, students will discuss the 3 statements in pairs and determine which 2 they believe to be true about the topic and which 1 statement is false.  We then have a whole class vote on which is which, I affirm their identifications of the true and false statements, then we have a quick discussion about how the true statements will play into the topic and why the false statement is false.

The trick is getting the kids settled and as focused as quickly as possible, and at least the last couple of years with my sophomores, games and competitions seem to work pretty well.  Here’s the other thing, these types of hooks and warm ups are a lot more fun for you as a teacher.  Let’s be real, playing hangman is way more fun than handing out a sheet with some questions on it and having to correct them all later.  This way, the whole class is on the same page about the material, the kids are smiling and engaged, and will therefore hopefully soak up the day’s material a bit more willingly and easily.

I find over and over that kids learn best when they are having fun, and my students have definitely had fun with these methods.  I hope if you try them out yours will too!!!  If you want more topic intro ideas (or even for wrap ups or reviews) I have a few thoroughly detailed in this FREE SAMPLE of my Back to School bundle, and many (including pictures with examples) in the full version.  Click HERE for part 2 of this post with two more fun ideas, or click HERE for 3 other ways to introduce a new topic, and THIS post for 3 ways to fill time at the end of class.