plagiarism (on not rushing to judgment)

Just had one of those consultations which remind me how careful you have to be about assuming a student has plagiarized.  This English 70 student (at YVCC, English 70 and 75 are the two developmental writing courses below English 101 Freshman composition) wrote a two-page summary of A&E’s version of Pride and Prejudice which sounded just like one of those summaries you’d read on a top-notch movie website.  Good vocabulary, good sentence variety.  Concise prose, consistent tense.  I really thought I had a plagiarized paper in front of me. 

As we talked, though, I became convinced that she did in fact write every sentence herself.  She’d actually written it in high school, in a journalism class, when they’d spent a lot of time on summaries (maybe even on summarizing movies).   She remembered how long she’d worked on it back then.  She talked about her many drafts (in a way that didn’t at all sound contrived).  And it was obvious that she’s crazy about this movie, so it shouldn’t be surprising that she would do her best work when writing about it.

Reminds me of Gail a couple weeks ago.  She came in upset (to the point of threatening to give up school) because her instructor had told her that she must’ve plagiarized a chunk of her paper.  He even gave her the URL of the website she was allegedly plagiarizing.

It took me only a few minutes to realize that it was unintentional plagiarism, if anything.  First, somehow she’d gotten it in her head that APA doesn’t want direct quotes (strange, I know), and so she directly quoted without quotation marks.  Second, she just wasn’t familiar with how to cite in general.   There was a website that had quoted the same website that Gail had quoted.  But, in the end, that fact didn’t have anything to do with Gail or the question of plagiarism.  It was just one site cutting and pasting from another. 

So I made comments on her paper in a way to show her instructor that it was her ignorance of documentation methods not plagiarism which was the problem.  And her instructor finally did, I think, semi-apologize.  But she definitely won’t be taking another class from him.

So gotta be careful.  


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