Monday, March 31, 2008

Learning on the Job

Because of the number of years I've been tutoring, new experiences are rare in the sense that yes, I still get occasional problems that I encounter, but between my experience in tutoring and in teaching I rarely don't know how to react. But last week I had an experience that left me unsure as to how to correct the issue.

I've developed a good rapport with one particular student last semester who I've been working with fairly closely this semester, too. He's a genuinely nice kid, and I like him; and he likes me too, to the extent that he won't work with anyone else. I've seen a lot of his work by this point, but until last week I realized I only really saw it when it was in need of extensive revision (which, after all, is why I'm here to help in the Writing Center), or when it was a lot more polished, needing some (for lack of a better word) editing, or a last pair of eyes to catch any mistakes left untended. For a number of reasons, some drafts I don't see in the final stages, just like some drafts I don't see in the very rough stage. We only meet for one hour once a week, for starters - one can only cover so much work in that time. I never really questioned this disparity between rough draft and polished draft because I presume that professors read and respond to a number of drafts that because of our lack of time I don't see; I also presume that sometimes other people (friends, classmates, etc.) take a look at my students' papers. 

Last week was the first time I've ever encountered a professor unhappy with a student's work, and who came directly to see me because of it. The student with whom I've been working had apparently been found guilty of plagiarizing. The tip-off came when the professor recognized the student's shift in voice, being more familiar and aware that the student could not have written what he did; his prose was too well-formed for an ESL student. The professor (who had apparently come looking for me this morning and came back when my shift started) told me that she was able to detect that this wasn't the student's writing; she Googled various phrases and detected, fairly easily, apparently, the sources of the student's copying - and then opined that I must not have been working with him for a long enough time to catch the obviousness of such a feat.

That is not a good thing to insinuate.

But the part that did actually irk me a tad, aside from her not having gone to the director or assistant director in conjunction with coming to me - was that this was the second time she had had him plagiarizing by Googling his paper online, the consequences of which were to fail him for that specific paper, and to give him a warning. It would have been at after that point I wished she had come to see me. Because I couldn't remember how in depth we went through this second paper, she didn't fail him for the entire class, but this was the experience that really freaked out the student, who looked suitably upset and worried and a million other bad things during our session this afternoon. I don't think he meant to plagiarize; or rather, I don't think he really understood the consequences of it. This certainly drove the point home, though.

This experience has really caused me to step back, evaluate my tutoring style, and then go on to re-evaluate and analyze it. A few things I need to think about:
  • How do you detect a shift in the writer's voice? I want to see specific examples. My own writing shifts throughout each paper.
  • In which ways can a tutor detect plagiarism? What strategies can be implemented aside from the obvious (in mid-paper, student's previously flawed writing becomes, well, flawless, etc.)

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