Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dealing with parent plagiarism

    This past week, I had two instances of parent plagiarism.

     In one, a student copied and pasted an essay from the internet.  I told him to write it over in his own words, but then his mother stepped in and rewrote his words into clearly adult words.   As frustrated as I was with the situation, the student was ten times more frustrated, because HE knew this was wrong and his mom had messed up what he knew he was supposed to do.  So I wrote on his paper that I really needed the work to be just done by him.  Fortunately, he still had the draft he had written before his mother got into the act, and I was able to grade that.

    He did well, and I complimented him in writing on the paper and in person, including the words, “I’m so pleased you did this yourself.”  He grew about 3 inches in front of my eyes, and was tickled to take his paper home to his mom.   He was proud of doing the work, and proud of doing the right thing.

    Another child brought in an essay that was clearly written by…  his mom.  This is no longer an aberration – I get more of these every year.   Arggh!!

    In the past I’ve taken on the mom who inevitably gets defensive and swears that her child wrote the paper (even though the child can’t explain what the words and concepts in the essay mean).  Or they’ll claim first that they had no hand in it, but then will say, “Well, I edited it” which unfortunately includes substantial rewrites from typical 7th grade choppy sentences to the sophisticated, fluent prose  that is a dead giveaway.

    This year I am trying to work through the child.  Kids know who is supposed to do their homework, and while sometimes they are happy to have work taken off their hands, THE KIDS know it is lying.  The cheating makes them uncomfortable, and they really don’t want to be a party to it, but when it’s their mom, what are they going to do? 

    I’ve been trying to become the ally of the kid, gently asking the mom through my notes on the paper and through my words to the child, to please let the child do the writing.  And remind the parent that the child will learn to be a better writer by doing the writing him/herself.  This has worked better than confrontations.  In the past, I was sometimes reduced to requiring students to write in front of me.  Now, the students know I want to trust them, and they want to show that they are trustworthy. 

    As in the first instance, the child was happy to write his own work instead of having to lie and say the work was his own when we both knew it was his mom’s.  And, no surprise, his own actual writing is starting to get better, which tickles both of us. 


  1. I like the approach you are taking here. It is difficult to deal with work that was clearly not written by the student, but rather by their parent (usually mom) or their tutor. I run into this fairly frequently as an online teacher.

  2. Claire - thanks for your comment. It's easier for me because I work in a hybrid environment. For you, it's tougher to determine who is doing the work. I can test students by having them try to define words or phrases used in the suspect writing, but I can see them do that - you can't.

    I wish parents would understand that this doesn't help their kids - it's stealing learning away from them...

  3. I would love for you to be my mentor - this is my first year trying hybrid teaching. Have been doing reading projects for some time now. Twitter's helped me find you, would you be my mentor?

  4. Daniela - if I can help, I'd be happy to. Use the Email Me link (right hand column) to reach me directly.

  5. Fran, that is a great comment 'it's stealing learning away from them...' We need a way to help parents and tutors help their students learn as opposed to doing their learning for them.