Saturday, September 27, 2008

The dangers of plagiarism

Last week one of my students turned in a plagiarized book review. After consulting my department chair and one of our vice principals, I decided to give the student an opportunity to redo the review for partial credit.

The student had taken phrases verbatim from an online book review site and used them in the review. Our school's student handbook says instances of plagiarism should result in a zero with no opportunity to redo the work. I chose to be a little lighter in my punishment because: 1) the higher-ups gave me the green light to do so, 2) I wanted the student to do the work the right way, and 3) because I believed in making this a "teachable moment."

I hope the student never plagiarizes again, because in addition to it being dishonest, this student's other teachers might not be as accommodating. I also know that once students get to college, plagiarism is taken VERY seriously.

When I was a M.Ed. graduate student at Plymouth State University, I had an opportunity to teach freshmen composition. When I reported to the head of the PSU English Dept that one of my students had plagiarized an essay, the verdict was swift and decisive. After meeting with the university's academic integrity board, the student automatically failed my course and was placed on academic probation. A subsequent violation would likely result in expulsion from the university.

Education is the business of ideas. Academic honesty is paramount. Over the course of the year I will teach my students that plagiarism is more than copying something word-for-word and not providing attribution. It is copying someone's idea and not giving credit where credit is due.

Almost all of my students told me that taking someone else's idea and putting it in their own words is NOT plagiarism. Wrong. It is! Plagiarism is idea theft. If that idea isn't yours, and you don't attribute it, it doesn't matter if you change some words around so it's phrased in your own language. It's still plagiarism!

By the time students leave my classroom, they should know what plagiarism is, and they should know how to avoid it. Those who plagiarize in the future will do so because they're unscrupulous cheaters, not because they're ignorant.

For more info on plagiarism, check out this link from The University of Maine at Farmington.
Image from, accessed 9/27/08

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What is written here

I am in the process of teaching my students how to create their own blogs. As I wrote here, students will eventually have their own individual class blogs featuring writing from a variety of genres.

As the blogs pop up, I will begin posting assignments on a new page called Mr. B-G's Blog Exemplar. Here I will provide a simplified blog model for students to imitate, post writing assignments and comment instructions, and, over time, provide my own models of the assignments I would like students to complete.

To date I've been using Mr. B-G's English Blog to muse about my own teaching, take stances on all things education related, and post things I believe other teachers will enjoy reading.

I've also used it to post class assignments. In the future, all assignment instructions will be found on my "exemplar" blog. As usual, Mr. B-G's English Teaching Resources will still be the one-stop source for my handouts and links for the teaching and study of secondary English.

It is my hope that this new page will add an additional level of organization to Mr. B-G's English Blog. Feedback, as always, is appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Image from, accessed 9/11/08

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Summer Reading Essay Blog Comment Criteria

I would like your summer reading essay comments to answer the following five questions:

I - Describe your personal reaction to the story. How do you feel after reading it? What do you remember? What images do you see? What concepts or ideas are in your head? What did the story make you think about?

II - Did the conversation between the two characters seem authentic? What details, specifically, made the characters seem real and natural? If the character's dialogue was not believable, what is one thing the author could have done to make it better?

III. What was your favorite part of the story? Pick a line that you liked, copy and paste it into the comment box, put quotes around it, and explain what it was about it that stood out to you.

IV - Find one thing about the essay that you found distracting or problematic. This could be anything from improper use of dialogue, misused words (your vs. you're, it's vs. its, their vs. there), run-on sentences, sentence fragments, subject/verb agreement, simple word usage, boring verbs, etc.

Everyone's essay can be improved in some way. Help each other become stronger writers by identifying something that could be done better.

V - What is one piece of advice that the author might consider for future writing assignments? This should be phrased constructively (try doing ------- next time, consider --------) or inquisitively (what do you think would happen if you -------------?)

Comments should be five paragraphs (about 25 informative, well-written sentences). Your comments should appear below the story you are responding to. When asked to choose an identity, click "Name/URL," then sign your comment with your first name and last initial in the name field. Leave the URL box blank. Comments not posted according to these instructions will not be eligible for credit, and will be deleted.

I would like you to respond to three essays.

* Please bring a printed copy of your comments to class on Tuesday, Sept. 9th, as I will check them then. Your classmates and I thank you for your valuable feedback.

Three comments = a "check"
Two comments = a "check minus"
One or no comments = zero credit

For general information about posting blog comments, please click here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vocabulary Quiz Stories

Yesterday I gave my freshmen and seniors the vocabulary words, literary terms, and Latin and Greek roots they'll need to learn for next week. Over the course of a 10-week quarter, students can expect to have about eight of these weekly quizzes.

The quiz consists of three components. The first is a story which utilizes 10 of the 11 vocabulary words they're assigned. The story is about 300 words long, and contains 10 blanks where the vocabulary words are supposed to go. There's a word bank, and students put the right word in each blank.

The next section involves defining and providing an example or examples of three literary terms. The final section asks students to define four roots, pick a word that contains that root, and use it correctly in a sentence.

I am creating the quiz for next week. After that, the students will take turns in pairs creating it each week. I provide students with instructions on how to make the quiz, and I make myself available before and after school to help them edit the quiz to ensure they followed the instructions. If they create a challenging, fair, and solvable quiz, the students each earn 100 for a quiz grade.

If they fail to make the quiz, they earn a zero. If they misuse a word or part of the quiz is unsolvable, the students lose 10 points for each error. The goal here is to create a coherent quiz that a student who has learned the words can succeed on, and one who hasn't will likely do poorly (i.e. a fair assessment).

Students e-mail me the quiz in electronic form, and I am easily able to: 1) edit it with them, and 2) reproduce it on paper.

The vocabulary words come from literature we're reading and a list of the most common words found on the SAT. It is common for students to mention that a word they learned for my class appeared in their biology or history textbook, or in another book they happened to be reading outside of class.

The literary terms and definitions all come from the Massachusetts Department of Education, and are terms they are likely to encounter on the MCAS test.

The roots come from the same list of common SAT words, as these "word parts" are used to comprise many of those words.

If you're interested in an example of one of these quizzes, leave me a comment and I can send one by e-mail. Next week I plan to post a PDF copy of the vocabulary quiz creation instructions on my English Teaching Resources page.

Enjoy the weekend. Go Pats!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Blogging into summer reading essays

We're just about a week into the new school year, and so far, things are going well.

My freshmen and seniors have been working on summer reading essays. I asked them to pick two characters from two books they read and have those characters meet and interact in the setting of one book. They needed to use dialogue, be descriptive, and keep it between 500 and 1000 words.

Most seem to have embraced the assignment. One of my seniors was working on an essay where James Bond meets Harry Potter. I can't wait to read it.

Students were asked to save their essays on my USB drives, which I am using to upload the essays to our class blogs. Students will then be able to read each others' work and post comments. Once the kids get the hang of reading and posting blog comments, I'm going to teach them how to create their own blogs. The idea here is that by the end of the year they'll have an electronic portfolio of writing in some of the major English genres (poetry, short story, personal narrative, analysis, compare & contrast, and research).

An added benefit of individual student blogs is they'll be in a much better position to revise, as they can take the feedback they get from comments and use them to make changes and improvements to their essays on the blog. For the past two years I've used class blogs that I control as the means for sharing student writing. These lacked a mechanism for revision, as students could not add or alter content.

Now, with individual pages, students should be able to experience the power that comes with publishing writing and the ownership of knowing they can alter and post content whenever they choose. Hopefully the blogs will spur students to write beyond the requirements for my class. If their usage of MySpace and Facebook are any indication, there's good reason to feel optimistic.