And Plagiarize We Did

I’m grateful for the enthusiastic feedback on my proposed lesson plan. Our class exercise in pre-emptive plagiarism seems to have worked rather well.

Some further background: my Essay 3 unit is an assignment that asks students to familiarize themselves with the range of discourse, rhetorical positions, and possible arguments on a topic of their choice; to use library research to examine the parameters of the contemporary conversation on that topic; and then to build upon that research and add their own fresh perspective to that conversation in an essay directed at a specific audience of their choosing. (Please don’t call it a “research paper”: that term implies to me a certain vague purposelessness.) On Tuesday, I briefly described how we started, by examining a couple brief and diverse samplings of already-ongoing conversations and talking about the range of ideologies and rhetorical strategies apparent in those samplings.

After that introduction and some work proposing and focusing various possible topics, I gave the instant plagiarism assignment. Students had about 10 minutes to Google their topics or search the plagiarism-facilitating site of their choice, paste the most useful sections into a word-processing document, and then another 15 minutes to massage the text, shifting sections around, making notes on transitions, “making it flow.” Presto. Instant plagiarized draft. They saved their work to the lab machines, and their homework was to (1) read a sample student essay in the same genre (and on the same topic as one of the conversations they’d already examined) from the Writing Program’s Best Essays Anthology from a previous year, and (2) write a quick one-page no-sources assertion outline draft of their essay, to bring with them to class.

So the idea this far is to get them to do some initial focusing research while also making a point about plagiarism, and then to scaffold upon that initial research, getting them to put together an argument and structure in their own words without relying on any sources.

We began today with them writing some quick reactions to the sample student essay they’d read, with a particular focus on the author’s assumptions in relation to other possible positions, and on the author’s stance in relation to audience.

I’d selected the essay, in fact, not only because it fit in well with the conversation they’d read, but also because of its somewhat one-sided use of sources and its vague conception of audience. Then, in small groups, I had students grade the essay, using the same criteria I’ll use to grade their drafts, and describe their rationale for that grade given those criteria. There was a range of scores–some were harsh, some were generous–but the attention to the problematic aspects of the essay was consistent, and the students were able to clearly articulate the difficulties they saw (which, in keeping with my diabolical master plan, were the difficulties I most frequently see with this assignment). We then collaboratively composed on the board (they dictated, I wrote) a peer response letter to the author, suggesting the best ways to remedy these difficulties: give a more complete and evenhanded account of the issue, draw from a broader range of sources, and have your examples make more evident who you’re explicitly addressing.

And with that “Aha!” moment on their part, we moved on to the final portion of class, where they put together their pseudo-plagiarized draft with their assertion outline, introducing the combination with a brief note to me concerning how their perspective and insights extend the argument beyond what their sources say. As I look through their drafts tonight, it’s some solid initial work. Their assignment over the weekend is to do their library research in earnest; to come to me next week with a five-source annotated bibliography, which — scaffolded upon this week’s work — should give them a better idea of the range of discourse they’re addressing for this assignment.

I’m quite happy with the way this early work came out, and I think it more effectively models the careful and recursive way in which good research works, while explicitly addressing some of my other major pedagogical goals for this assignment, as well.

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And Plagiarize We Did

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