Overhearing a discussion about cheating on classwork the other day, I had this thought: Good teachers really ought to make it harder for students to cheat in any way they can. They should be constantly trying to out-smart their students, because the students are trying to out-smart them. They work in groups, collaborate and exploit existing resources quite well in order to make up for not studying and actually understanding the material. Students develop these skills quite nicely, which is an education in itself, but they suffer by not actually learning what teachers want them to learn.
In the context of a high school English class, I have these suggestions, which I would argue both thwart cheaters and encourage true student engagement.
- Sparknotes and Cliffnotes have made it all too easy to cheat by reading summary material instead of the actual source. Does Sparknotes have an entry for “Hunger Games“? I couldn’t find one. So cut back on the Shakespeare and pick a book or two from the young-adult bestseller list. Teach a text students will actually want to read and they might actually read it.
- Analyze a film from the last century. Even some of the old greats — Citizen Kane — would be better than another go at “Othello”. Plot is plot. Character development is character development. Irony is irony. Critical thinking is critical thinking, right?
- Tell the students to read editorials from the local newspaper and critique them. Encourage them to write a letter to the editor on a local issue.
- If you do read classics (which of course, should be done), find modern versions of it to play in class, even if not direct remakes, but similar plot lines. Realize that Shakespeare was the soap opera writer of his day. Or, find modern films or TV shows that allude to the classics and quiz students on what was alluded.