Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cheating Yourself: Then why do I feel bad?

Last Friday, four kids in my class cheated.  ALL ON THE SAME DAY.  

My seniors in my Speech Communications class have been wrestling with the dreaded commencement speech for the Class of 2015’s graduation. We spend a few weeks on this assignment each year, breaking it down into manageable chunks that (I thought) allow the kids oodles of time to process and be creative.

We meditate on the last four years, we brainstorm on both collective and personal memories, and we talk about what high school means to us. We discuss extended metaphors that are both cheesy and powerful and the symbolism behind our mascots, a bird and a tree, that can quickly become cliche. Then we even go into the computer lab and specifically look up canned graduation speeches and discuss how we can be inspired by others yet NOT STEAL THEM. Well, they stole them.  In fact, two students in one class STOLE THE SAME ONE and then were scheduled to perform them BACK TO BACK. How is that for karma?

Is it the kids’ fault, though?  Being born in 1969, I am far from being a “digital native.”  We throw this term around often for our teens, but it is true.  They were born with technology in their hands...why wouldn’t you just look something up and take it?  

This obvious bout of plagiarism shook me up:  what am I doing wrong?  I have been teaching for 13 years, but as all educators know the job redefines itself every day, every month, every year. Your students lead your way to both victories and failures on a daily basis, but what steps can I take to lead my students to creative thinking and execution of their own thoughts?  I am their advocate and their guide...I need to do a better job.

First, I really feel that more on demand writing needs to happen in class, not at home.  In class writing allows me to control the environment:  soft instrumental music that I choose, cell phones parked, and a timer.  Toggling between timed silence and conferencing with students allows the kids a safe place to struggle and, hopefully, chip away at the writers’ block that many insist they have.  “Writers’ block” for the 21st century kid actually comes down to navigating through a world of distraction.  Vine clips, Netflix binge watching, and Snapchat are far more seductive than a blinking cursor taunting you on a blank Google Doc.

Also, writing is one of the most complex cognitive tasks...why do you think most students dread it? You are creating something that has never existed before and that is hard.  Please, can we just have a fill-in-the-blank worksheet?  Conversely, it can also be one of the most fulfilling activities a student undertakes. There is a certain pride one feels when they complete a page of their own prose:  you don’t get this from a word search.

So, I thank my rascally kids who cut and pasted off of the internet. This was a needed spring wake up call to force me into deep reflection.  The only way to strengthen my pedagogical techniques in class is to listen to my clients and respond accordingly.  This is not always pretty but just like a bathroom remodel, it’s got to get messy before it becomes beautiful.

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