Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stop Copying Me - by Lindell Long

What's the saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That may well be, but for students, copying without giving credit to the author is plagiarism.    

 Why do students plagiarize? With today’s technology, anything can be found on the internet with a few key strokes. No more using a card catalog, 

pulling dozens of books to find a sentence here, or a sentence there. Now, a student can find entire articles, even complete term papers, posted online. What took hours of research in the past now takes a mere few minutes. Some students don’t even bother to reword the article, choosing instead to cut and paste and be done. Of course, knowing our students, we recognize work that is not theirs. Asking a student to define a word in the article and he cannot is a sure clue.

There are many programs that are used in high schools such as “turn it in,” ”plagtracker,” and “plagiarism detect” and yet the student still turns in work as his own. We can attribute this trend in native English speakers as laziness, wanting to appear smarter than actuality, and/or the pursuit of a good grade, but what about the non-native-English speaker?

Why do ESOL students so frequently plagiarize? Often, they have no idea that they have done anything wrong. Unless it is thoroughly explained, students do not equate this action with cheating. In some cultures, copying someone else’s work is considered a sign of honoring the individual. Recognize this practice and then explain that within this culture where they currently live, doing so with writing is not acceptable. The first step to preventing plagiarism is to explain and demonstrate what constitutes the action.

 Most of the time, the ESOL student does not possess the vocabulary to express his thoughts, so he copies a passage that expresses his idea better than the student can. Providing necessary vocabulary and using frames will greatly help the student. Put examples of how a response can be worded and reworded to help the ESOL student. Having discussions about the subject is also very helpful. Write the thoughts on the board that the students have expressed. Seeing their words helps with vocabulary and spelling.  

Working in small groups is a safe alternative for students to express thoughts without feeling inadequate.

As students discuss possible wording, hand each group a small paragraph and ask them to list the important words in each paragraph. Practicing taking a paragraph apart and inserting their own words gives students the tools needed to paraphrase. Helping students build their own sentences and then paragraphs gives students a sense of accomplishment which will instill confidence to keep trying these methods. This will help them avoid plagiarism in the future.

Have you had issues with plagiarism in your classroom? How do you deal with it?

Lindell Long teaches ESOL at Clover Middle and High Schools in Clover, South Carolina, a position she’s held for the last 18 years. She’s married with 4 children and so many pets her family fears she’ll bring home a stray yak one day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Test Taking, Clock Watching & the Warping of Time by Andy Jobson

Tick, tick, tick...

Last Saturday I spent my morning serving as a room supervisor for the SAT. While I had a busy weekend planned, our testing coordinator asked me to help her out, and with four kids at home and one in college, I can always use a little extra money.  So I agreed to sacrifice some Saturday morning sleep and relaxation to help her out.  Some might think that watching kids take a test is a pretty easy way to spend several hours and earn $100.  I'd have to disagree.

I always think of Camus’s The Plague when I proctor.  While I don’t remember much about the book, I do remember a discussion of time.  A character in the novel speaks of wasting time; he argues that the least wasteful use of time is to be excruciatingly aware of each passing second.  Waiting in the doctor’s office, for example, where time passes agonizingly slowly, makes you fully aware of the passage of time. Of course, it’s also a form of torture.  With the proliferation of handheld idiot boxes, we don’t suffer from this as much.  (Instead we suffer from carpal tunnel and decreased attention spans, but that’s another story.)

Proctoring the SAT fits Camus’s analogy quite well.  As the timekeeper, I have to keep a close eye on the clock so that I can announce sonorously, “You have five minutes remaining for this section.”  That’s about as exciting as it gets, sadly.  You watch the timer closely.  Okay, there are twelve minutes remaining.  Better make a pass up and down the aisles… You move up and down the aisles, checking to make sure everyone is on the right section and is using the correct pencil.  Perhaps you quietly remind a student to keep his calculator flat so that others aren’t tempted to look. Hmm, still nine and a half minutes.  Should I stay or go?  You look away, gaze around the room, and pray for time to pass before glancing again.  Really?  Still seven minutes and forty-five seconds?  Please….  Time warps when you're watching the seconds. Occasionally I wish I were taking the test again just to have something to do.

Perhaps the problem is that the tests aren’t stressful enough.  When I spent my junior year of college in the United Kingdom, end-of-year exams were essentially an “all-or-nothing” proposition; you only earned credit if you passed the exams.  Hence, students were quite stressed out, and sometimes amusing incidents resulted.  I did not observe it, but I heard the perhaps apocryphal story of a student who brought a teddy bear to the exam, ostensibly as a good-luck charm.  After returning from a brief visit to the bathroom, the student grew visibly agitated and started tearing apart his teddy bear.  “Haven’t you gotten more done than that?” he reportedly shouted.  “What have you been doing while I’ve been gone?”  If only we had such things to anticipate for the SAT.

I’m glad to help out my friend, and I’ll be glad to receive the check when it comes.  I’m also glad when I hear students express feelings of confidence that they did well, as it means my fellow teachers and I are doing our jobs.  Nevertheless, I ask that you think of the proctors’ mind-numbing, soul-sucking boredom as they watch the clock, making this essential rite of passage possible.

I guess it’s just one more reason to thank a teacher.

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Writing Across the Curriculum by Love Merryman

How do you teach 7th grade students to write a five paragraph essay? You give them something to write about.

When newcomers arrive in St. Marys, a coastal city in South Georgia, their initial reaction often is, "This place is fabulous!" The residents here love their country and are dedicated to life in the United States, largely because Kings Bay Naval Base is located there. At least 40 percent of our students' parents are connected in some way to either King Bay or the naval base in Jacksonville, FL, just thirty miles away. Our students frequently have unique life experiences, having moved here from Spain, Italy, or other U.S. locations such as San Diego, California, Washington, or Hawaii.

Such diverse backgrounds elicited strong, informed opinions when the class began discussing American- made versus internationally-made products. Should we participate in the global economy extensively or just buy American? That was the impetus for excitement when the class viewed Free Trade, a wonderful video. Taking the enthusiasm of seventh graders, and applying it to the five-paragraph essay assignment for all students was almost delightful when presented in segments.

First, the students watched the video, identifying important parts about trade and economy. Their discussion included comments about raw materials, transportation of materials, wages of workers, buildings for manufacturing, and tariffs. They noticed how Hong Kong, now part of China, had grown economically because of its free trade policy. They heard from Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who discussed myriad factors affecting economic decisions in countries such as Estonia.

After brainstorming, they began the first leg of their assignment:"Write a paragraph about manufacturing a 'Made in the USA' product." The next day students shared their paragraphs and the conversation naturally led to production in a global economy. The second leg was to "Write a paragraph about producing and selling a product in a global economy," and the students had to look at the experience from a different perspective.

When they returned the next day, they were excited to share their writing and compare their results. They did an excellent job articulating their differences. Thirteen-year-olds were discussing their cell phones and the multitude of countries in which the parts may have been made. Next, the real body and writing challenge  began: "Choose a position, either American-made or globally produced and give at least four reasons to support your argument." Then a brave student asked, "What if I can't choose?" I suggested that if he couldn't, he should present at least three reasons for and against each perspective.

The next day again was spent sharing the delightful, informative paragraphs. And the information learned was resonated in the writing of the students: "A global economy could lead to more interdependent societies/countries, thus WORLD PEACE."

Not only had they watched an interesting and informative video, but they also had created the body for their essay and only needed to add an introduction and conclusion. Have you ever seen seventh graders excited about writing across the curriculum? I have, and they had something important to say!

Thank you,!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Helping Build Lifelong Learners by Andrew Jobson

One of my greatest struggles as a teacher is to find ways to actually impart knowledge to my students; in other words, to go from telling the students something to seeing them make new ideas their own.  Along with that is the challenge of getting them to not merely regurgitate what I’ve said, but to engage the ideas and adapt them to their own understandings—to do battle with the ideas rather than merely memorize them.

I have often used Francis Bacon’s famous essay about books: the one where he says “Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (or something very close to that).  I recently discovered a more recent writer who provides additional ideas for students on how to read a book actively.  Mortimer Adler was the father of the Great Books series, and I’ve been reading his 1940s classic How to Read a Book.  It’s good, but a very short essay entitled “How to Mark a Book” may be even more useful thanks to its brevity.  It’s easily located on the web.

Adler argues that “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”  He distinguishes between those who “own” books by holding them in pristine condition on their bookshelves, and those who truly own books—whose books are all “dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back.”

Most of my students, if they mark books, merely underline large swaths of text.  Adler provides some additional suggestions to actively read and understand (and to test one’s understanding) a challenging text.  I think I’m going to have all of my students read this essay early in the year.

You may find it useful as well. 

Do you mark up books?

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Psst...Hey, You Want a Free DVD? by Susan Gable

by Susan Gable
Director of Education Curriculum - 

Four teachers and I found ourselves making that offer over and over again in Nashville and Boston in November, 2014. It's an offer most teachers find hard to refuse. (I mean, come on! It's FREE! No catch!)

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) conference took place from Nov. 5 - Nov. 7, 2014 at the Opryland Convention Center in Nashville, TN. Jim Buchanan, a 2009 Teacher of the Year Runner-up and a 2010 Teacher of the Year, helped at the booth, along with Love Merryman Bates, a 2014 Teacher Associate of the Year. Though Jim's trip started with a wrinkle-- the hotel had no room for him when he checked in at 11:30 pm, and then the room they "found" for him turned out to be occupied by four sleeping women when he accessed it with the keycard the front desk gave him, exciting times! -- things smoothed out quickly. Both Jim and Love are enthusiastic proponents, and they shared that with the attending teachers.

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) convened Nov. 20- Nov. 23, 2014 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and I thought if ever there was a location that would draw social studies teachers, it would be Boston. That turned out to be true, as attendance was higher than normal, but it turned out to be a curse as well because we discovered, in the mostly empty exhibit hall on Saturday, that social studies teachers would rather go out and explore the real history than stay inside and take workshops or peruse new materials. (We understood, as we were eager to see some "real history" as well. We did, with an amazing private tour of the Old North Church, but that's another post!) Elizabeth Harris, new to us as a teacher associate but who's been using and recommending our materials for years, and Mike Siekkienen, a 2011 Teacher of the Year who attended AMLE with me last year, helped us in Boston.

While our main goal is to find and engage teachers who don't know about, we also get current members visiting us, which we encourage by sending emails prior to the conference. Sometimes they bring friends to introduce them to Other times we would get unsolicited testimonials as teachers walked by and exclaimed, "izzit! I love izzit!" Those folks were pulled over and "put to work" if only for a minute, telling others gathered at the booth that there's "no catch, it's really free and it's great!"

At this year's AMLE, a teacher stopped to chat and informed us that she was doing a workshop at the conference, and would be mentioning as a great teacher resource. 

After I return from conference with my forms, it's "all hands on deck" as most of the office staff pitch in to get them entered into the computer. We run across interesting things as we go through them. For example, we're starting to think handwriting is no longer being taught in schools because teachers themselves have such horrible handwriting. (Admit it, you know this is true of some of you!) Trying to read some of the forms is a challenge. 

This year we discovered someone who, wanting a free DVD but not wanting to give us his information, had actually filled out the form as the school janitor. (We discovered that from the school's website. We also figured it was a safe bet that the district hadn't sent the school janitor to a social studies conference.) Another person gave us a "school" address that turned out to be under a highway overpass. I don't think he really lived/worked there. Do you?

Our conference presence serves to reinforce the emails we send out each month to prospective customers. I've heard numerous times at conference, "I didn't think you guys were real!" So we're able to demonstrate that yes, we're real, we're not scammers, and we really do want to give teachers classroom resources for free.

Sometimes there really is a free...DVD. At least, there is for teachers thanks to and our funders.

I hope that during the 2015/16 school year, we'll get the chance to see some of you at conferences! We'll be at AMLE, NCSS, and NCEA again this year, as well as the NEA conference. Stop by, say hi, and get your bonus FREE DVD!

Susan Gable is the Director of Education Curriculum at She holds a BA in Psychology from Douglas College/Rutgers University and is a certified elementary teacher in 3 states, with ten years of classroom experience. She’s a multi-published, award-winning author who also teaches writing workshops.