26 February 2018

Cheating in Spanish Class

It's a little rush of adrenaline when you catch a cheater. We language teachers, we can spot a translator sentence just skimming. That rush, though, it's always a teeny tiny tempest of emotions: a little bit of anger and insult with a touch of vindication and "I told you so!" I mean, it's not a good feeling, but it's a pretty strong one.

I don't really get it much anymore though.

But I'm not some mastermind who has figured out all of the latest tricks for sneaking a peek at a translator during assignments or assessments. I just think for the most part I've finally made it easier for them NOT to cheat. I don't think it has anything to do with fear of being caught either: it's just that it would take them more time and effort to look up the answer than to figure it out on their own.

What's more, the stakes aren't too high for them to handle. Every question missed is not automatically points off. With my imitation AAPPL assessments for reading and listening, they receive a holistic score based on the AAPPL rubrics, so it has more to do with which questions they miss and why. Did they pick an answer with a false cognate or the first number they saw? Does the answer they picked show that they misunderstand the underlying message of the text? Did they pick an answer that was almost right, just not precisely accurate?

Plus I have a fairly generous graduated grading scale, but one that also means that a student has to be performing at Intermediate Mid levels by the end of Spanish I to get 100%.

But you don't have to entirely overhaul your grading to get rid of that ugly "gotcha" rush. I figure there are four things any language teacher could do to make cheating a thing of the past:

  1. Establish proper "time and place" policies for aides.
  2. Over prepare before assessments.
  3. Discuss a range of appropriate targets.
  4. Monitor assessment scrupulously.

Time-and-place policies

Don't ban translators. Don't ban asking their advanced friends. After all, wholesale bans never work in the real-world, where people weigh decisions about risk versus reward daily (or don't weigh them because they like risk that much...)

Establish when it is and is not appropriate to consult another source and WHY.

I want my students to use a translator when they're practicing--I still use WordReference and Google regularly to confirm my Spanish. Heck, I couldn't write this blog post in my first language without consulting thesaurus.com--much less teach my English class without it!

However, I have very firm guidelines for how they should, which basically boil down to:
  • 10% or less of the task
  • Capitalize every time
On assessments, though, I stress over and over that all I care about is what they DO know. I do not care one whit about the questions they get wrong, other than to see where the limit of what they can do is. I want to know so I can provide input and exercises that are appropriate and not overwhelming for them. I will never take points off for guessing.

Translators are useful. Asking your friends for help is useful. But only insofar as it helps you build up what you CAN DO.

Over prepare before assessments.

I want them to think the test is easy--at least part of it. I want a sense of glee at how much they do understand and how much they can say to erase all intimidation (or at least as much as possible among the stress-ridden youth of today).

I'm not here to weed anyone out of anything. There are no weeds.

I'm here to cultivate, so I practice the skills they're going to need so much in the days leading up to the assessment, with texts that push their limits just a little beyond where the assessment is actually pushing--yet scaffolding it all the while with easy EDPuzzle or Actively Learn questions.

And there's always something for the novices to latch onto, so nobody ever bombs completely.

Discuss a range of appropriate targets.

Limit judgment: Provide a range of goals, levels that are all valid goals appropriate for their stage of development. Talk about these goals, what they mean, how to meet them, where to go once they're met. Show them the proficiency babies, and remind them constantly of where they should be if they're keeping up (and Sra. Cottrell at Musicuentos.com tells me at least 80% of them should be able to keep up without problem, especially if you're over preparing as directed in step #2).

For some people, getting any Spanish out is fine, and it will always be better than a zero. For some people who have to have 100% at all times, they should have something that's a little, well, impressive to achieve in the time frame allotted.

Monitor assessment scrupulously.

Finally, give them an excuse not to cheat.

I do have reading and listening assessments online, but writing is on paper, and speaking is face to face.

Also, things like walking around, using tools like DyKnow to keep them honest, it shows you're paying attention. My own son is a living reminder that all students who trust us really need is a little proof that we see them in order to do what is right. Just walking by, making sure those tabs in the browser are the tabs they're supposed to have up, glancing briefly at everyone's screen and just generally taking account of their progress: it makes my teenagers AND my ten-year-old from getting too far from what they're supposed to be doing.

A quick caution, though: this does NOT work when your students assume you're out to get them. If they know you will pounce on that "gotcha" high, if they know that you're just checking boxes to cover your...self, that would NOT be scrupulous monitoring. And they WILL rebel: either because they feel compelled to spite you or because they don't feel the connection holding them to you, and they feel adrift.

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