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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


My suspicious and picky nature

When students become hellbent on writing about a certain topic for their paper in a class, I get suspicious. Particularly when it seems as though that particular topic doesn't really fit well with the course focus.

I am very picky about paper topics - I want to make sure the papers are focused partly to ensure that they are less likely to be plagiarized, and partly because I think very focused papers are far more interesting to read than general ones. I work hard to ensure that I don't get a bunch of reports back - and instead my students create thesis-driven papers.

And that is always always always an uphill battle.

I make them turn in, weeks in advance, a topic statement in which they are to create a proposal for a paper, for which they are to have read at least 3 articles already, and they are to give me a preliminary thesis statement. More often than not, I get nothing even approximating this.

And, despite my warnings that they need to do this to ensure that we are on the same page - many do not even submit anything. This can end up really hurting them because if they turn in a paper on a topic I would not have approved, they are kind of screwed. But if I approve the topic and it ends up not going well, they get some points for effort at least.

One student got really angry at me for not approving his paper topic idea. Honestly, I couldn't even understand what he was proposing - it made no sense whatsoever. He emailed me (after I rejected the proposal) and told me I needed to reconsider that because he wanted to do his paper on it. He made the mistake of putting another course's number and title in the heading for his proposal - which may well have been an honest mistake - but that plus an incomprehensible proposal that seemed not related to the class made me suspicious that he was trying to do the same paper for two classes. Plus, it made no sense.

Then a student came up to me on friday (yesterday) to tell me her paper topic (papers are due monday). She noted that she hadn't ever sent me a proposal, and was hopeful the topic was okay. The topic was *not* okay (you likely guessed that though, right?). She got furious with me for not approving it - and told me she had already written the paper. Ummm... and so that's my fault? I was clear that they needed to get their proposals approved by me - I said that over and over. I know I am picky, I know that in many classes they can do reports instead of research papers - and I don't want those kinds of papers. That's why I created this process of proposing topics.

So this student sent me her first paragraph today (I suggested she send me something so I could give her feedback). I still cannot figure out how it relates to the class at all, it is extremely extremely broad, and the first paragraph is written beautifully. We've never seen this kind of writing from this student before. I googled a few sentences and nothing matched. But I'm suspicious - especially since she is so adamant that her paper does fit the class, and because it is already done (in my experience, it is the rare rare student who has their paper done in advance - and those who do are usually the ones who come to class all the time, get all their assignments done and on time, etc., none of those things fit this student).

Suspicious? Moi?



At 7:09 PM, Blogger The History Enthusiast said...

I would totally be suspicious too. I don't think you're being paranoid at all!

At 9:17 PM, Blogger k8 said...

Definitely worthy of suspicion! And the students clearly haven't completed the assignment as required if they didn't submit their proposals by the date you stipulated. I know you looked at a paragraph of the one, but did the students show you any of their process work or research notes?

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

Hmmmm, definitely has all the classic hallmarks of your classic plaigairist. Does she use any polysyllabic words not normally encountered in the vocabulary of your average 20 year old? (I swear I had one recently who used the word "negritude." Who the hell uses that word outside of, say the Black Panthers in 1970? Made the Google search easy. Turns out he had plaigairized another work by one of the assigned authors for the week!) Ya gotta wonder about the cajones on some people!

At 12:24 AM, Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Stick with your system. If a student understands the class well enough to make an unusual paper topic fit, then they should be able to explain it to you in their proposal..


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