Van and I sat aghast in the back of the classroom as students looked at one another, spoke at one another and read from each other’s scripts. Van took photographs of this as evidence. Evidence of what exactly I wasn’t certain because it seemed as though everyone in the entire class was plagiarising and cheating.
The only student who didn’t seem to be participating in the moral bankruptcy was the highest student whose English level is far and away better than her peers. Therefore, I began to consider if it was even cheating; no one seemed to care or notice. Our trainee moved one girl from the front to the back of the classroom on account of cheating but this seemed like a drop in the ocean.
As Van became outraged and I became disheartened the test was over. The three of us headed home to grade these tests. Van and I chatted animatedly about how we can fix this issue of cheating. I once gave all of my students 100% despite the cheating. I insisted to them that they all got 100%. I put the score on the student portal and I threatened to send a congratulatory e-mail around the whole department. At that point one of two of my students said that they had cheated. They admitted fault. I persisted that they had all achieved 100% and that was an amazing feat. I brought them cake. Guilt-cake. They didn’t cheat again unsurprisingly. I had impressed upon them that I was serious about my displeasure in their actions and I was going to see that through no matter what. I actually ended up taking that test off of their final score because they demonstrated that they knew the severity of the situation.
Ask him. I need a nap, but ask some discreet questions. Van headed downstairs to ask about cultural perceptions of cheating. I had high suspicions that no one in Myanmar thinks of these actions as cheating. Now, in my sleepy state I could hear a fraction of the conversation floating up through the floorboards. Van, they were just looking at each other. Do you think that answering the question alone is good or bad? We used to do that when we didn’t know the answer. Is the test valid in your opinion? Van, I moved the one girl who was looking at the other book. Do you know what I mean by valid? They were sitting close together; it’s natural. Can we change the dynamic of the classroom?
The conclusion of this discussion was that they would wait until teacher Chloe awakened and ask her opinion. Van told my guilt-cake story, she asked questions; both leading and fair. Our student expressed his own past history of test taking, he considered the questions poised but he just couldn’t really see the problem because culturally it is so usual to cheat, or look at one another, that as a concept it just doesn’t engage the person being asked. Van made the suggestion of splitting the class in two to take the next test. Van declared that grading the papers was a cumulative waste of everyone’s time; the feedback to the students is useless because it doesn’t show them their own weaknesses. The feedback to us would be useless because we just can’t show that our teaching methods are working if all students have the same answers.
Cheating is something that individuals know about; our highest level student wrapped a protective arm around her exam. She must have known that other students would take her answers and use them as their own. Further, she must have considered that this action would be a problem.
Of course, the main note from this whole incident is this: the only way to break cheating is to make the test matter. If there is no punishment, no accountability then students don’t care.
There is also a very important note, which is that the class tests in our school prepare the students for their government exams. We don’t really mind what score they get. What we want the students to use the tests for is to assess their knowledge gaps and strengths so that they can effectively revise for their standardised tests. They don’t need to cheat from the highest level student to look good on paper. We will not beat the student if they get the wrong answer, or even if they fail. What is important is that each individual student shows improvement in their own way. Our teaching focuses on the individual, because we have the luxury that there isn’t an end test which is sat by every child in the country, regardless of their social standing or educational background. As I said, our syllabus does teach the government curriculum. I am prepared to bet that our class will score higher on the standard test than any other grade 9 in the history of the school.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
Creating Classroom Culture
Testing the Teachers
Assessing Student Learning
Am I Getting Through to These Students?
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