A Note about Collaboration vs. Plagiarism

     As you’ve already gathered based on the course syllabus, expectations for you are high this year. Often, high expectations lead to pressure among friends to “help” one another. While helping one another is both appropriate and productive in some situations, it is not always acceptable. On specific occasions, I will assign group/partner work. During those times, you will be expected to share ideas and prepare a single response for all involved. Any other time, though, you will be expected to submit work you’ve completed on your own. If I notice any evidence that the work submitted is not yours –for example, if someone witnesses you copying another source, two or more papers contain obvious similarities, or your paper reflects a writing style or language not commonly demonstrated by you–the borrower(s) and lender will earn grades of “0” on the assignment. In addition, parents and/or sponsors or UIL organizations in which you participate may be notified.

Regarding Written Papers –
     There will be instances when a friend asks you to read and respond to his/her writing. In such cases, you should feel honored. That person respects your feedback and believes you are smart enough and honest enough to make worthwhile suggestions that can help him/her improve his/her writing and, thus, his/her grade. In this case, carefully read over and respond to the paper just as you would during an in-class peer response session by providing commentary regarding troublesome or especially promising areas and explanations for your observations. Under no circumstances, however, should you rewrite any part of the paper (words, phrases, sentences, etc.) or tell the original author what wording to use. Instead, ask the author what he/she intends to express and, through discussion, guide him/her to new ways of expressing the idea(s).
     Instances such as this offer a growth opportunity for you as well. While you are reading your peer’s writing, notice unique and effective strategies the author uses in that paper and consider how you could use similar strategies in your writing. Also notice weaknesses and consider how to avoid those in your writing as well. What you must never do, though, is simply copy someone else’s words. Copying words or ideas from someone else and using them as if they are your own is plagiarism, a violation equivalent to cheating and an absolute guarantee of a grade of “0.”
     Also, under no circumstance should you simply hand over your paper to someone to read without you outside of class. In the past, instances have occurred in which the original paper has been submitted with another student’s name on it. In other cases, the original had been copied, and both papers were submitted only to have both students earn 0’s for copying. Don’t fall victim to this ploy; always keep your paper with you and conduct peer response sessions in person.

Regarding Study Guides –
     Cliff’s Notes, E-Notes, SparkNotes, and other critical sources have a place in the study of literature, but they are not to replace literature. I ask that you refrain from referring to any such source(s) until you have completed your reading of a text and formed your own opinions and conclusions. Though these sources may help you understand the events and/or situations of the text, too often students rely solely on the interpretations presented in these sources instead of thinking about the material themselves. This absorption of the guide’s ideas stalls the student’s motivation to “discover” the ideas in the text for him-/herself.
     At times, you may receive in-class study guides. Discussing responses to these study questions can provide insight and new perspectives that you had not considered earlier. Once you have shared your thoughts, discussed varying ideas and details, and reached your own conclusions, you should record your response in your own words. However, you may never simply copy or give out answers, orally or in writing. You may not divide questions among group members and then provide your answer(s) to fellow group members. All questions should be discussed among all group members so all members can offer their thoughts and form their own conclusions. (Remember, everyone does not need to agree; responses can and will vary!) After the discussion, each group member must write a response reflective of his/her thinking, not simply regurgitate an answer group mates offered.

One final note –
     It’s only human to want to assist someone, especially someone we care about or someone we want to impress, so that he/she does not have to struggle through a difficult task. I get that. In some cases, however, we need to work through difficult tasks to learn how to perform certain skills independently so that we can be prepared and successful when we must face similar challenges alone. If you truly care about your peers and friends, allow them the room to develop the necessary skills for success; don’t do the work for them. Be supportive, encouraging, honest, and thoughtful, but don’t take away their opportunities to grow. A real friend doesn’t weaken another by allowing the other to languish; instead he/she strengthens the other by knowing that friend can grow exponentially if given the opportunity and confidence from others.

*Collusion: secret agreement for a deceitful or fraudulent purpose.