Week of 20th: Microlevel (responding + plagiarism)

Looking forward to your responses!


9 thoughts on “Week of 20th: Microlevel (responding + plagiarism)”

  1. I found “Taking On Turnitin: Tutors Advocating Change to be very interesting. Its discussion on plagiarism, which seems to be a rather important issue in writing programs, broaches some important points about Turnitin and plagiarism in general.
    The concept of fraudulent plagiarism versus accidental plagiarism is one that I have never thought of before. It seems true that many students “are often criminalized for being patchwriters” (9) when they are not intentionally being dishonest. Rather it seems that they may just be completing a given assignment in the only way they know how, by answering a question and providing support from other sources. It is explained that to some, even professional writers are just sophisticated patchwriters. For me, it calls into question some of the methods used to teach writing, especially argumentative writing. Should we be teaching students to make a claim and then support it using the work of others? If we do, are we teaching them to plagiarize? However, if we do not teach this way, are we making a student’s writing weaker by having them only use their own voice? Obviously, some students blatantly and purposefully plagiarize, but the thought of fraudulent versus unintentional plagiarism seems to raise as many questions as it answers.
    The privacy aspects of Turnitin were also very interesting. While lawyers insist that “fingerprint” of a paper that is created by uploading it to the software “is merely a digital code, which relays the unprotectable factual information that certain pre-defined content is present in the work…the fingerprint does not include any of the work’s actual contents, and is therefore neither a copy nor a true derivative of the original text” (14), it was not difficult for the authors to obtain actual student papers from Turnitin. It seems to me that those who label this as copyright infringement are generally correct. Although Turnitin claims they are not taking original work from students, ultimately, they are retaining that work that contains the students name and other personal information.
    I think that most importantly, this article gives light to the issue of the Turnitin program and its uses in the classroom. By learning about the product, professors and teachers can make informed decisions about how to use it and students can be aware of how their teachers are using it and make their own informed decisions about how to engage with their text. It seems that by learning the nuances of the program, students will have more success with professors who use Turnitin. While this may ultimately help the student to become more effective at paraphrasing and citing outside sources, it also causes the student to potentially change their writing to appease a computer program’s idea of what plagiarism is.


  2. Because I’m one of those people who becomes overly paranoid with writing papers, appropriating sources, and citing sources correctly, I found the articles and essays concerning plagiarism and appropriation of sources incredibly interesting. I had not heard the term “patchwriting” before, but it became a very interesting concept as I read Howard’s essay. Her points regarding the morality of academic dishonesty were intriguing, as well, and I found myself questioning much of what she had to say. As each “crime” of academic dishonesty differs, so should the punishments; it did become apparent, however, that she believed that no instance of academic dishonesty can occur because of ignorance (Howard 81). Instead, students will (not exclusively, but almost always the case) be aware that they are doing something academically “immoral” in their work. In general, I would agree with this stance.

    Regarding her passage on patchwriting: I found the concept and the definition that she assigned to be it to both interesting and confounding. She writes, “We see it (patchwriting) from our students regularly, and we do it ourselves, whenever we’re writing about sources that we’re having difficulty understanding” (82). I would think it is common that students do not fully understand the sources that they encounter for a plethora of reasons, with the following being the main two: first, the student will not (is not capable of) understanding the subject matter as well as the author; and second, that the student does not care enough to try to understand the subject matter. If it is the first, it seems difficult to truly fault the student for appropriating a source—that is, if the student does so in a “by-the-book” fashion and avoids direct plagiarism. In truth, how could a teacher expect a student to write coherently about a topic that the student doesn’t understand?

    As students often have to write about topics that are boring (to most undergraduates), there is little doubt in my mind that the students will genuinely NOT try to understand the topic because they simply do not like it. This case is different—laziness should never be rewarded. But when a student struggles to understand a subject, I don’t see how patchwriting could (or should) be a legitimate issue or concern with regard to true plagiarism. It’s an unrealistic expectation for a student to become enough of an expert on a difficult subject through two weeks of research and assigned reading from legitimate experts. I admit that I struggle with this concept because, in truth, no one should be rewarded for taking others’ words and work. But—again, from the outside looking in, as I don’t teach and never plan to—it seems like an unrealistic expectation for students to avoid patchwriting entirely, as well as treat patchwriting as the same sort of “crime” as true plagiarism.


  3. Teacher Response: Implications, Consequences, and Conversations

    Responding to a student’s work is almost like art—it’s either abstract and only the author (the writing teacher) understands its meaning or it is direct, inspiring, and invokes further questioning and revision from the viewers (the student). I found Nancy Sommer’s “Responding to Student Writing” helpful for my own practices as a teacher of first year composition classes. Sommers asks teachers to participate with the text with a pedagogical purpose; it seems she aligns with pedagogues such as Murray, who unquestionably vote for process over product. Sommers states: “thoughtful comments create the motive for revising… our research has been entirely focused on comments, but also what determines which of these comments the students choose to use or to ignore when revising” (149). This suggests, then, that all comments and responses from the instructors should be geared towards invoking revision from the students. Sommers also calls into question the cons of in-depth and thoughtful comments: “instead of offering strategies, the teachers offer what is interpreted by the students as rules for composing; the comments suggest to the students that writing is just a matter of following the rules” (153). This statement makes me inclined to believe that Sommers finds this “rulebook” to hold a negative connotation; however, isn’t composing “good writing” based on traditional and strict “rules” for what constitutes “good writing?” Maybe not. This “rulebook” for composition seems to be more of a current-traditional rhetoric’s goal; Sommers suggests that making students use teacher-feedback as a rulebook is not the end-goal. Rather, teacher commentary should be used for students to come into conversation with the instructor about their ideas.
    In “Re-visions” it is stated: “the partnership between writer and reader, between student and teacher, creates something new—a collection of ideas that are larger than the paper itself, ideas milling around, moving forth into the world, across the drafts” (256). Here, it is suggested the gap should be bridged between authority figure (teacher) and student, creating a partnership between the two. The way the instructor understands the relationship significantly affects the comments and response to the feedback on the student’s end.
    Other scholars, such as Fife and O’neill, align with Sommers’ pedagogical approach. Fife and O’neill assert that teacher-response should be an interactive conversation and “establish the roles teacher and student can assume in this textual interchange. This insight has important implications for composition pedagogy” (311). This view aligns with a collaborative and expressive pedagogical approach, as the teachers and students are no longer abridged but rather act as a partnership in developing strong writing.

    Plagiarism: What is it and How is it defined?
    As students, I’m sure many of us have encountered the term “plagiarism” and the infamous “Turn It In” submission application. As teachers, there is a much different understanding of what these terms mean for our students. Until I read the selected essays on plagiarism and before I became a teacher, I never really dissected what it means to “plagiarize.” When I was only a student in undergrad, I understood plagiarism as a means of cheating, stealing another author’s work, and to simply not do it… a given. However, as my role in the classroom changed, I began to question much of what the authors of “Taking on Turnitin: Tutors Advocating Change” question as well. Turn It In is supposedly a web application that matches students’ submission with other authors’ works; however, I often get students who honestly didn’t know they plagiarized. But how can this be? It’s actually quite simple: patch-writing, paraphrasing, and similarities in opinions are just some of the ways students can “mistakenly” plagiarize. Howard states: “students are often criminalized for being patch-writers… in actuality, even the most professional writers are merely sophisticated patch-writers” (9). Howard continues to define patch-writing pedagogically by stating it is: “a process of evaluating a source text, selecting passages… and transporting those passages to the patch-writer’s new context” (9). So how are we (instructors) to judge what is good or bad patch-writing? Howard even struggles with the actual term “plagiarism” and problematizes its historically sexist derivation. Yet, with technology and paper mills (such as the one in The Term Paper Artist) it’s sadly no surprise students cheat with such a vast amount of opportunities and easy access to “plagiarism” options. So where do we, as teachers, draw the line? How are we supposed to define what is considered cheating versus an essay that is unable to be pedagogically free of other’s ideas? Should we re-think how we understanding Turn It In and instead communicate with our students further about how to avoid being labeled as a cheater?


  4. Both Sommers’ “Responding to Student Writing” and “Rethinking Nancy Sommers’s ‘Responding to Student Writing,” highlight an important aspect of writing instruction that I have not come across personally in my limited experience as a writing instructor. As both articles mention and re-iterate, one of the most time consuming aspects of writing instruction is not lesson planning, scheduling, or office hours, (not even responding to emails of students asking what homework is due when they’re able to consult the course syllabus) but providing useful commentary on student papers. Whether instructors prefer to comment on hard copy or electronically, all of us hope that our students are thoughtfully reviewing the feedback they have received and able to demonstrate necessary changes to their next draft or assignment.

    But as both articles note, the comments are “worded in such a way that it is difficult for students to know what is the most important problem in the text and what problems are of lesser importance” (“Revision” 247). Further, students are often given contradictory feedback focusing on both higher order and lower order concerns, sometimes on the exact same passage. These first year writers are then expected to understand and make adequate revisions. I cringe to think I have probably given some type of this muddled feedback at some point (who am I kidding? I know I have).

    Another aspect of composition instruction that I have not received much instruction about is addressed in the article “Taking on Turnitin: Tutors Advocating change.” I’ve used Turnitin both as an undergraduate student, a peer and professional tutor in a writing center, and now as an instructor. However, I have never come across any conversation about discrepancies, usefulness, and controversies of Turnitin; it just seems like an obvious/accepted aspect of the university. Aside from the financial and legal controversies of Turnitin that the article highlights, there are many issues involving the lack of training of instructors who use the tool as well as the lack of instructions that students (don’t) receive on what exactly is proper plagiarism and/or patchwriting. As the article concludes on the importance of the writing tutors’ advocacy of students regarding plagiarism and Turnitin, I also hope to be an advocate for my writing students in order to instruct them first on what plagiarism is and how to properly incorporate evidence from sources in writing, as well as how to understand my feedback for their writing.


  5. I found “The Term Paper Artist” to be very interesting. I had never actually heard of a term paper mill before but found the practice thought provoking and sobering. Why would students at the college level even consider this an avenue for their work? I could understand the concept behind accidental plagiarism based on lack of knowledge or misunderstanding due to mistakes in quotation or works cited but a term paper mill seems to me outright dishonesty that only hurts the student. Mamatas lays out the three types of clients he encountered as a writer.
    There’s this idea of a “DUMB CLIENT”, students who are academically challenged (1). The idea that entry level college students cannot locate a thesis statement scares me for the future. It begs the question, what are students really being taught, either in a first-year course or as they continue their studies. It also brings to light the lack of attention giving to writing instruction.
    Mamatas mentions the failings of a system and references the second type of client who is a “one-timer”; “A chemistry major trapped in a poetry class thanks to the vagaries of schedule and distribution requirements, or worse, the poet trapped in a chemistry class” (2). I could relate to the scheduling and distribution requirements being a transfer student whose schedule was completely backward than those of my traditional classmates. It seems that the system falls short not only at the academic level but at the administrative level as well.
    The third type he describes as “the most tragic” are intelligent people who are second language learners. They struggle with the English language within the confines of the university. He states that these students often write their own work but have it sent in for editing by English speaking writers.
    Mamatas states that he knows why most of the students are as low as they are and why they don’t understand what they’re doing, it is because those “students have never read term papers” (3). He claims that while students might be “cheating themselves” the institution is equally culpable by accepting “tuition and give nothing in exchange” (3).
    I find it equally fascinating and terrifying that students are using these resources to facilitate their education. I agree with Mike when he said “laziness should never be rewarded”. In this sense, I feel that using a term paper mill is laziness exemplified. It takes plagiarism to a whole new level.


  6. Hi everyone,
    As Nancy Sommers notes in “Responding to Student Writing” “More than any other enterprise in the teaching of writing, responding to and commenting on student writing consumes the largest portion of [a teacher’s] time” (148). She uses this as a foundation for justifying her article, and I find this more than valid. However, this also drew my thoughts to my undergraduate education in English for secondary education. While the coursework preparing English educators would seemingly take such a claim into account, I recall learning very little on the complexities of responding to student writing. As I am currently a teaching assistant here at SU, I found Sommers’ two critiques of typical feedback very intriguing, as she claims that “teachers’ comments can take students’ attention away from their own purposes in writing a particular text and focus that attention on the teachers’ purpose in commenting” (149) and that “most teachers’ comments are not text-specific and could be interchanged, rubber-stamped, from text to text” (152). While the non-specificity of commenting seems guided by pedagogical approach, I found the distracting nature of conventional comments to be a very strong point of this early essay. Sommers asserts, “after the comments of the teacher are imposed on the first or second draft, the student’s attention dramatically shifts from ‘This is what I want to say,’ to ‘This is what you the teacher are asking me to do.’” (150). It is this inconsistency in the purpose of writing that Sommers sees as a crucial issue in the method for responding to writing that is often passed down for a lack of explicitly taught methodologies.
    In her later essay, “Re-Visions: Rethinking Nancy Sommers’s ‘Responding to Student Writing,’ 1982” she challenged her former conclusion “by arguing that feedback plays a leading role in undergraduate writing development when, but only when, students and teachers create a partnership through feedback—a transaction in which teachers engage with their students by treating them as apprentice scholars, offering honest critique paired with instruction” (250). It is by negotiating the purpose and significance of the form feedback takes that students can get the most out of their writing—an approach that I believe my undergraduate education in English methods could have benefited from greatly. Considering “feedback plays an important social role…to help students feel less anonymous and to give them a sense of academic belonging,” such a student-teacher partnership allows students to be optimally receptive to the feedback provided (251). Sommers asserts that “The differences among first-year students, we found, are less about ability and more about an openness and receptivity to comments, a way of seeing their writing experiences as something under their control, not random and outside themselves” (253). While a teacher cannot provide instruction on how to be receptive to feedback, they can structure their course to allow for more opportunities for clear reception. This is, furthermore, a methodological theory that should be necessarily built into the undergraduate education of English methodology for secondary education.
    1. While I understand Sommer’ critique of asking students “to edit and develop at the same time” (Responding to Student Writing 151) it appears that both are a part of the composition process. Sommers seeks to provide a method of response that does not overwhelm students, but does isolating the content addressed then fail to acknowledge the ways editing and developing writing are complexly intertwined?
    2. How can educators approach student-teacher feedback partnerships? How would this change the approach that an educator takes to responding to student writing?

    I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!


  7. Howard’s thoughts on patchwriting in “The Ethics of Plagiarism” fall in line with ideas on learning and teaching through specific discourse communities. As Howard points out, patchwriting most often happens when a student attempts to make sense of certain ideas. Students can struggle to fully understand ideas that come from an unfamiliar discourse community, as well as to paraphrase these ideas properly when they are writing within an unfamiliar discourse community. I saw this last semester when a student of mine was found to be plagiarizing through turnitin. There was no student intention, so as Howard points out, it was not quite a question of ethics that could fit under the header of “Academic Dishonesty.” Instead, this student was attempting to correctly paraphrase a number of scholarly articles (a few dealing with dense theoretical ideas) for the assignment. She did not purposely take the words of the author in order to complete the assignment; she simply had trouble understanding the work, hindering her ability to put some of the content in her own words to fit the purpose for her writing. I tried to make the situation as much of a learning experience as possible, sitting with her to look over the turnitin report and working with her to understand why it came up as ‘plagiarism.’ Howard’s ideas helpfully verbalize the situation I saw with my student. The terms of “Fraud, insufficient citation, and excessive repetition,” she mentions in “Sexuality, Texuality: The Cultural Work of Plagiarism” are also very helpful and replace the ambiguous and problematic term of “plagiarism” (488).

    Although not directly stated, the article “The Term Paper Artist,” brings up the idea of being familiar with a discourse, stating, “I know why students don’t understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, or proper citations. It’s because students have never read term papers” (Mamatas). While there are issues with this statement, his point goes back to the issue of teaching a genre that is only seen within the classroom and nowhere else. Introducing the concept of discourse communities/genres with specific rhetorical situations can help students see the purpose of various forms of writing and help them grapple more confidently as they use outside information they are just learning about and fit it for their own purpose, whether academic or other.

    What are possible methods of using patchwriting as an intermediate step in helping students understand appropriate source usage?

    Do you see yourself as a patchwriter? Howard writes, “The patchwriting of which I speak is familiar to us all. We see it from our students regularly, and we do it ourselves, whenever we’re writing about sources that we’re having difficultly understanding” (82). What is your own understanding of your patchwriting methods?


  8. “Academic Dishonesty” has always been a header in each of my syllabi deterring me from any type of plagiarism, or cheating. The information the heading preceded has always been a constant reminder to be honest, to cite sources, and to remain original. However, Howard’s article, “The Ethics of Plagiarism” calls into question the intentionality of plagiarism. Questioning whether plagiarism is always a matter of ethics, or if it is an unintentional mark, she discusses how plagiarism can differ across the board.

    In student teaching, I witnessed my fair share of academic dishonesty: students copying and pasting essays from Sparknotes, those forgetting to cite the text, lack of quotation marks, but I never truly considered whether all of these instances should be considered “plagiarism.” Is one worse than the other? Sure. To me, I have always understood that students may participate in “unintentional plagiarism” though I didn’t realize there was a term for it, until reading Howard (80). I witnessed this a great deal when working in the writing center. Students would genuinely believe that they had done nothing wrong by using “patchwriting,” or they would miss an in-text citation just because they read too fast (80). It happens. I understood that. But luckily, in the writing center, we were able to fix these issues before those students had turned their drafts in. When teaching, I realized a large sum of students fell victim to these same issues, but they never had a writing tutor to catch their mistakes before they were final. This is why I found Howard’s article extremely interesting.

    Before understanding Howard’s emphasis on “intent,” I never really considered whether something could actually be deemed unethical if there was no intent behind there plagiarizing. Likewise, I never considered whether the term “plagiarism” should be revisited as an overarching term altogether. Because, as Howard stresses, there are different levels of plagiarism, I believe there should in fact be different terms for identifying each level on its own (84—5). I do not, for example, think that poorly documented sources should fall under the same stamp as a fraudulent paper bought from the internet. I think what needs to happen in these instances, however, is what Sommers addresses in “Responding to Student Writing,” about a teacher’s role in the writing process and “Re-visions: Across the Drafts,” where she revisits the ideas put forth in her original article.

    As Sommers stresses in both articles, educators need to focus on how to teach student students higher order concerns dealing with content, organization, or even correct usage of sources. In doing so, students should ideally learn tools that they can use for all writing assignments. When instructors provide comments that teach students the correct way to cite sources, or the appropriate way to summarize sources and give correct credit to the original author, instructors are teaching valuable lessons that students can carry across the writing board. I think it is essential, however, that instructors follow Sommers instructions to focus on higher order concerns before tackling any grammar. I agree when she says that this will confuse the reader and the reader’s focus in later drafts.

    My questions:
    How can instructors respond to student writing in a way that is both specific to that student’s paper, but also helpful for future writing assignments in other courses?
    Should a course be implemented specifically teaching students to avoiding unintentional plagiarism? If so, how?


  9. Instructor Response/Commenting on Student Papers
    I did not realize how interested I was in the issue of teacher/instructor comments until reading the Fife and O’Neill article. But I am glad that they (along with other researchers have taken such an interest in an often overlooked aspect of the writing process. I was especially intrigued by the prospect of “student metacommentary” which calls for the inclusion of student voices in discussion about writing (302-3). This may help some of the disconnect that occurs between teacher and student when it comes to comments on final drafts and lead to more successful commenting: “what is said in the comments and what is done in the classroom mutually reinforce and enrich each other” (303). Teacher responses and classroom practices should be aligned in such a way that students are aware of how they are being evaluated. I also liked how Nancy Sommers made light of some of the troubling aspects of ineffective teacher responses. When she mentions that many comments can be “rubber-stamped” and are not “text-specific,” it made me realize that this happens often in the classroom. I can recall many instances in which I received a comment like “word choice” or simply “WC.” And I was supposed to know 1.) what that simple comment meant and 2.) what part of my writing the comment was referring to. Such miscommunications can hinder a student’s improvement in her/his writing. This is why there must clarity and transparency when it comes to classroom practices and what is said in the comments (155). The student must become more involved in the commenting process in order to make students a part of the, as Sommers argues in her “Re-Visions” article, “academic community” (252). Sommers also argues that “too often comments are written to the paper, not to the student” (250). By focusing more on the expected errors and mistakes, teachers become focused on these errors rather than the student’s argument and writing. If we want the focus of our classes to be on the student’s writing (and improvement as a writer) comments should be more focused on the writing and less on mistakes made by developing writers.

    The P-Word
    I think Rebecca Moore Howard says it best when she answers her own question, “How do you define plagiarism?” as “Indefinable.” (473). Although I do not fully agree with her argument in this article, I do agree with Howard that “everything” should be removed from the plagiarism category (488). If all transgressions against the Academic Integrity/Honesty Policy are treated the same, plagiarism remains further undefined. This one-size-fits-all type of academic dishonesty is quite troublesome. I believe there to be a clear distinction between plagiarism and what Howard terms “patchwriting.”
    Turning Away from Turnitin
    So why have we never heard about the limits of Turnitin? And why is it embraced and deified by so many institutions? Written over a decade ago, these writing center instructors and tutors clearly presented a warning to the rest of the academic world. Why is such a system still being used if it compromises student work?

    Mastering the Term Paper
    Writing for oneself (and subsequent classes) can be quite challenging. But have you ever written for someone else? I really do not know if I could create a business out of writing essays for other students. Sure, it would be more of a risk to do so as a student, but I recall a news story a few years ago about a guy who did something similar to Mamatas. There really should be a film made about this lifestyle of writing term papers. Mamatas had it down to a system. Cranking out 6-10 pages in a matter of hours for “dumb clients who should not be in college” (1). All he had to do was fulfill the page requirement. He was paid regardless of the grade as long as he hit the required page length. Amazing. Cannot say I agree with the ethics, but amazing nonetheless.

    How can be find a balance between focusing on the content of student’s writing and the errors? What are the pedagogical practices necessary to make sure classroom practices and instructor comments are properly and effectively aligned?
    So…what is plagiarism?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s