Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cheating vs tutoring

Yesterday, Dear Abby posted reader responses to a May 29 letter from a girl who was helping her boyfriend with his classwork.
DEAR ABBY: I'm an "A" student, but my boyfriend, "Rory," has a difficult time in school, so he often comes over for help. [...]

I don't give Rory the answers to questions, but I do give him "hints" and tell him where he's likely to find the answers in the textbooks. I always check that the answers are correct. With his math homework, I tell him each step he needs to take, but he actually does the math himself and then I check for accuracy. If he needs to write an essay, I suggest what he might want to write and help him with some of the edits.

My sister thinks what I do goes far beyond help, and that I'm enabling him to cheat. She feels that while it may help his grades now, I am doing him no favors in the long run.
Lulu: Cheating! We love cheating issues.

Ashley: I know!

Dear Abby doesn't give a firm ruling on the cheating issue, but she does tell the letter writer to back off ("When you suggest topics for your boyfriend's essays, then edit them... the teacher won't see where he needs to strengthen his English skills"). Yesterday, readers pointed out that an easy way to tell if he's actually being benefited is to find out if his test grades improved; presumably, she can't do those for him (and I feel that if she could and did, it would have been mentioned in the "am I cheating?" question.)

Lulu: It's sort of weird that people seem to be reserving their "is it cheating?" judgment until they know if his test grades improved. Like, it's tutoring if it's effective, and cheating if it's not?

Ashley: But if his paper grades and homeworks are improving, then it matters whether his tests are as well, because the skills should be transferable.

Lulu: Right, but--

Ashley: Some people are bad at tests.

Lulu (tragically, like a wounded bat): Yeah.

Ashley: But it's not a bad assumption, at least in math.

Lulu: But she could just be a bad tutor. He forgets as soon as he leaves her house.

Ashley: Then she should stop, because it's ineffective. Ask the teacher for help.

Lulu: Or she could learn tutoring techniques. Google it, get a book, join a tutoring group if they have one at her school. I guess I'm wondering what her goal is. Does she want to help him learn, or help him pass? She doesn't really say. If she just wants to help him pass, she might as well just cheat.

Ashley: True.

Lulu: Not that--

Ashley: We're not advocating cheating.

Lulu: Cheating is wrong.

Ashley: Wrong!

Lulu: Wrong, and bad. Anyway, as the A-student, she's got more to lose if they get caught.

Ashley: Teachers always suspect the girlfriend.**

Lulu: Maybe she wants to help him learn, and he just wants to pass.

Ashley: Ha ha. That does seem likely.

I know from trying to tutor kids myself that students have a vast arsenal of ways to get out of actually doing any work when you're there to help them--even when they theoretically want to learn. Staring at you blankly until you provide an answer for them, for example. The writer needs to either commit to helping him learn, in which case she's doing too much of the work herself and needs to get him more engaged; or she needs to admit to herself that she's okay with cheating and do the work herself, since it would be easier (this is not the recommended avenue); or she needs to wash her hands of Rory's grades. It just seems like her current methods are a lot of work and inefficient no matter what she wants to do.

* again, it could be a boy! we don't know! but since s/he shares a room with a sister, I'm assuming female.

** One of the reader responses from yesterday:
I used to teach at the university level. For 20 years I watched this happen. Never once was it the boyfriend "helping" the girlfriend. If we got two essays on the same topic, it was always the girlfriend who had written it, while the boyfriend who "studied with her" or "used it as a model" ended up handing in a distorted version of the same paper -- same quotes, same structure, reworded sentences. The boyfriends were slacking off; their girlfriends were doing the work.

I have talked about this with other professors; only one could cite a single exception to this rule. Thank you for telling that young woman to stop doing his homework and please, Abby, let your readers know the issue is systemic.
Ashley: I CALL FOUL: it's a liberal arts prof.

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