I detest plagiarism.
I barely slept last night. I was grading a few papers, and ran across one that felt completely out of the norm for the student who turned it in. I couldn't even finish grading it, and went to bed instead, but of course, didn't actually, you know, sleep. Then instead of just being irked at the student's plagiarism, I got irked that the plagiarism was messing with my beauty rest. (And yeah, I need all the help I can get on that front.)
Background paragraph: The assignment asks students to write a review, and requires them to use two professional reviews in the process. We spend a day in class working on using quotations appropriately, introducing author's, giving context, quoting, citing. We spend additional time talking about appropriate paraphrase, again, introducing another's ideas, giving context, and citing. One of the things the assignment does is to help students practice using other peoples ideas/words to agree/disagree, give background, context. Just to be clear, my syllabus has a clear statement about plagiarism which we've discussed in class. We've also discussed questions of plagiarism at other times in class, emphasizing the importance of representing someone else's work and ideas fairly and ethically.
I reread the essay this morning. There are a couple complications. First, the opening paragraphs of the essay don't sound like the student's usual writing. Now, I know this student has been going to a tutor. The opening paragraphs sound like a tutor took over the paper a bit more than s/he should.
The bulk of the paper sounds much more like the student's previous writing. (I'm not usually the master of individual student styles, but this student has an easily notable style for reasons I won't go into here.)
The transition area involves one of the reviews the student uses. First, the student uses one of the reviewer's exact words without acknowledgment. One of these words stands out like a dystopic thumb, if you get my drift. It's just not a word students use. A few sentences later, the student introduces the critic and then uses almost a full sentence of his without quotation marks.
My general read on the student is that he's earnest and needy, smart but behind in some ways, not as attentive in class as I'd like (I consistently have to repeat instructions for his benefit). I don't think he was trying to fake the paper. I think he made some mistakes. First, the tutor probably took over the paper and the student let that happen because he's a first year student and the tutor is helping him and so on. Second, he didn't use quotation marks when he should have. Third, he missed our peer revision day, and didn't turn in a required rough draft.
Now, of course, I'm second guessing myself. What if the student's inattention isn't inattention but a comprehension problem? So maybe he understands a lot less from class activities and discussion than I realize? What if the quotation/citation day wasn't nearly enough for his understanding?
So now, what to do? I can clearly demonstrate the lack of quotation, and technically it's plagiarism. But it's petty plagiarism, if that makes sense. It's the kind of first year student mistake that deserves a little generosity and instruction rather than seriously punitive measures.
And yet, our first year writing class is the single writing requirement on campus. A passing grade in the course is supposed to somehow certify that the student is competent at writing at the first year level. And this paper doesn't show evidence of that level of competence.
So, I think I'm going to fail the paper, have a talk with the student to make sure he realizes that he must use quotation marks and cite appropriately, and that he can't let his tutor take over his paper too much. Then I'm going to call the tutoring centers to ask the directorial type to remind tutors not to take over papers. And, of course, I'm going to have to document the plagiarism so that if the student complains, I can demonstrate clearly to the powers that be that I've behaved appropriately.
(Failing a paper is one of the acceptable things we faculty can do in the face of plagiarism. We're given a lot of leeway. We can also fail the student in the class, or pursue measures up to and including expulsion. I've gone to the fail my class, suspension, and letter in official file stage once since I've been here, for a really blatant misrepresentation of work. But, rightfully, we have to document the problem and how we handled it.)
Considering how much I hate plagiarism, I generally take a teacherly stance towards it when I can, and make sure the student recognizes the problem and corrects it. At least that's what I do when the work seems misguided rather than purposefully deceitful.