Let’s Talk about Plagiarism

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

Plagiarism is a topic that many educators understand well as it is often explained and defined in institutions and universities’ plagiarism polices.  At Kaplan University, for example, plagiarism is defined in the following ways:

  1. Using another person’s words, ideas, results, or images without giving appropriate credit to that person; giving the impression that it is your own work
  2. Copying work, written text, or images from a student, the Internet, or any document without giving due credit to the source of the information
  3. Purchasing or contracting another person or company to complete coursework, including obtaining a paper off the Internet, from a term paper company, or from another student, and submitting it as your original work. (Kaplan University, 2014)
(c) 2015 Clipart.com

(c) 2015 Clipart.com

While plagiarism may be easily defined by educators, it is often much more difficult for students to understand.  It can be intentional or unintentional, and students may consciously or unconsciously commit plagiarism for a variety of reasons, including confusion, lack of research skills, inability to use APA or other citation styles, poor time management, and more.   With this in mind, our Writing Center tutors look for different ways to talk to students about plagiarism.  One avenue that offers a unique chance to explore plagiarism through a variety of perspectives is our live workshops.  These interactive workshops are offered monthly and archived for students to view at their leisure.   Below are some of the ways that we have approached plagiarism issues in the past few months.

Research Writing Basics – Sloppy research often leads to plagiarism, so in this workshop, writing tutor Kyle talks about the basics of research writing, including how students can identify quality sources and successfully integrate source material into their writing to avoid plagiarism.

Five Simple Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism – This workshop offers five easy ideas that students can use to help avoid plagiarizing in their writing.   These tips, shared by writing tutor Chrissine, include knowing when to cite, knowing how to cite using APA Style, recognizing effective paraphrasing, matching in-text citations to references (and vice versa), and remembering the 80/20 principle, or the idea that around 80% of a student’s paper should be his or her own thoughts, words, interpretation, or analysis, while 20% should be source material.

How to Prevent Accidental Plagiarism  – We recognize that plagiarism is often accidental, but we also realize that accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism.  This workshop with KUWC tutor Molly discusses how students can specifically prevent accidental plagiarism, including understanding the purpose of research sources, beginning research early in the writing process, and using effective note-taking strategies.

Practical Steps to Preventing Plagiarism – This presentation hosted by tutor Molly discusses how to recognize plagiarism, offers practical steps for plagiarism prevention, and connects those steps to the reading and writing processes.  In this workshop, Molly suggests that students use note-taking as a pre-writing strategy in order to keep track of their own perspective and record bibliographic information throughout the research process in order to correctly cite borrowed material when composing original assignments.

Secrets to Avoiding Plagiarism:  Paraphrasing – Since plagiarism often results from ineffective paraphrasing, or patch-writing, this workshop with tutor Molly demonstrates and teaches students the basics of effective paraphrasing and gives students the opportunity to practice successful paraphrasing.

These are just a few of the ways that our writing center tutors have talked about plagiarism in our live, monthly workshops over the past several months.  Other archived workshop topics include Integrating Quotes into Your Writing, Top 10 Plagiarism Mistakes, and Writing with Ease:  Paraphrase and Summary.  What are some ways that you talk about plagiarism with your students?



Kaplan University.  (2014). Academic integrity policy.  Retrieved from http://catalog.kaplanuniversity.edu/Academic_Integrity_Policy.aspx

Writing the Writer, Part 2

Molly Starkweather,  Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

The first part of this two-part entry explored the possible identities online students construct when engaging in synchronous tutoring that only uses text and audio (no videos). The second part will distinguish how a synchronous online space that does not use videos might be superior for tutoring students whose identities are difficult to negotiate in a traditional, physical university campus.

In a physical space, the writer is already being written by the ideology of the campus. At a traditional liberal arts institution, a student is likely to see a flyer with QR codes near stairs featuring ads for video game tournaments. If a student is a senior citizen in a wheelchair who cannot afford cable (much less a luxurious gaming system) at home, he or she is likely to feel a bit out of place. That is one piece of paper—a literal piece of writing on the wall— amid a series of buildings that require an extra set of steps (no pun intended) for handicapped accessibility to get inside. The metaphorical writing on the wall might include classes with students who are more often than not young, white, able-bodied, thin, heteronormative, and native-sounding English speakers.

In this physical space, a student comes in with the characteristics that were distinguished in his or her application and course registration materials written all over his or her physical body. The tutor then must decide what to do with that information. In my experience, the best case scenario included a tight-rope walk in which the rope I tried to balance on was only allowing elements of a student’s identity to come up organically in discussion focused primarily on the writing. This balancing act was easy if there were not many weights on either side of the “Do not discuss any differences whatsoever” and the “Discuss all differences to clear the air by giving permission for them to be there” baton I carried through the conversation.

During one particularly successful tutoring session when I was a peer tutor in South Georgia, a student came in with a shaved head and some makeup on. I never knew the gender identity of the student, but it seemed a kind of non-heteronormative identity was being performed. The student had a single dollar bill attached to his or her neon pink shirt with a clothespin. I used our common Southern heritage to ask “Is it your birthday?” (For those unfamiliar, it is a common tradition to “pin the money” on someone’s shirt when celebrating  a birthday.) The student enthusiastically responded in the affirmative, and I asked if I could pin a dollar on. With that little ritual, we were able to establish that no differences needed to be discussed, but we had something in common to cling to. I had negotiated what I needed to, and so had the student, so that we could sit down and focus on the writing in a warm and inviting space.

How would that conversation have gone differently online? The student might still have said he or she was celebrating a birthday. True, we might not have negotiated that difficult moment of what to do with the meaning behind the student’s appearance, but we would not have needed to. The fact is that the student did not bring up the makeup or the colorful outfit or anything else, so it was not up for discussion. While it was a moment of hospitality for the student and a moment of growth for me to make a connection in spite of the student’s differences from the norm, that connection could have been made on the student’s terms. In a synchronous online space with no cameras, the student’s identity is much more within the student’s control.

Making room in the writing center for all students might mean embracing what John Lennon described in 1969 on The David Frost Show as “bagism,” in which all participants in the act of total communication hide their outer identities in order to eliminate distraction from their messages to each other. According to the transcript online (Beatles Bible, n.d.), Frost pointed out to Lennon that the bag itself might be distracting, but in cyberspace the situation is much more egalitarian. No one can see each other in the video-less chat room.

Some concerns around using video-less technology for communication involve the lack of connection between tutor and writer that can be facilitated by nonverbal cues, especially in terms of eye contact and mirror neurons or mirror receptors. According to neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni (as cited in Lehrer, 2008), mirror neurons are what move us to feel for other people when we see something they experience; in other words, our brains are geared to smile when we see other people smile or cry when we see them cry. Truly, mirror neurons are a powerful factor in effective communication that would be removed when there is no video interface for online tutoring—but what if there were never any facial expressions to factor in in the first place?

A recent study by Sherman, Michikyan, and Greenfield (2013) has revealed that, while bonding might be stronger using face to face communication among those forming relationships, bonding can take place among those who use instant messaging. In fact, those participants who primarily communicated in a particular way (such as using telephone calls and audio chats) reported greater bonding through that primary medium as opposed to a different, supposedly superior medium. In other words, this study indicates that whatever means a tutor uses to communicate with a writer can facilitate social presence and a perceived bond so long as that means remains constant.

Given that the study by Sherman, Michikyan, and Greenfield (2013) focuses on building friendships, and given that a socially present bond can be established and maintained fairly well between friends using only text-based or voice communication, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the singularly focused tutor-writer relationship would need visual cues. The sacrifice of anonymity in the name of forging a supposedly stronger personal bond seems counterproductive when widely accepted communication texts like The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society echo the theory that text-based online interaction clears the way for more meaningful communications over a distance (Bartsch & Subrahmanyam, 2015).

In the case of students who complete all of their education online with no physical interaction with peers, professors, and writing center workers, it is in the best interest of inclusivity to avoid adding video technology to the writing center as a default. Currently, there are many reasons why video is not part of the standard tutoring experience at Kaplan, but many of those barriers—including the ease of accessing web cams and software for video tutoring, as well as the availability of strong enough broadband connections to facilitate smooth video feeds—will soon disappear as technology continues to advance. Jonathan Finkelstein’s guide to synchronous online education, Learning in Real Time (2006), warns against using videos simply in order to reproduce the physical campus experience. In the case of providing a welcoming space for marginalized students, reproducing the physical campus might not be the best goal. Instead, digital landscapes can facilitate meaningful social presence in a minimalist context in order to allow students to take control of writing their assignments—and writing themselves.

References for Parts 1 & 2

Bartsch, M. & Subrahmanyam, K. (2015). Technology and self-presentation: Impression management online. In L. Rosen, N. Cheever, & L. M. Carrier (Eds.) The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society (pp. 339-357). West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The Beatles Bible. (n.d.) Television: John Lennon and Yoko Ono on The David Frost Show. Retrieved from http://www.beatlesbible.com/1969/06/14/television-john-lennon-yoko-ono-david-frost-show/

Brooks, J. (2001). Minimalist tutoring: Making the student do all the work. In

Barnett, R. & Blumner, J. (Eds.), The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing

center theory and practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Coogan, D. (1994, March). Towards a rhetoric of on-line tutoring. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Nashville, TN.

Harris, M. (2000). Talk to me: Engaging reluctant writers.

In B. Rafoth (Ed.), A tutor’s guide: Helping writers one to one (pp. 24-

34). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Lehrer, J. (2008). The mirror neuron revolution: Explaining what makes humans social. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-mirror-neuron-revolut/

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), article 1. doi: 10.5817/CP2013-2-3

Topic Selection

Dr. Tamara Fudge

Professor,  School of Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University


There are some nice benefits to allowing students to pick their own topics for papers. First, there tends to be a lot less complaining about having to write in the first place. Also, the teacher doesn’t have to read through dozens of papers that cover the very same content.

Girl hiding behind blue book.


However, when students pick their own topics, they tend to write mostly about things they already know instead of investigating new concepts. They tend to use familiar sources instead of learning how to research or might even skip using source material altogether. Some students will try to re-purpose previous papers (most schools have rules against doing this) or at least cannibalize old ones.

“Professor, can I send in a project proposal I did for a real-life client?”

“Can I just show a website I built for my cousin instead of doing the coding assignment?”

“Is it okay to send in the paper that Professor X said was so good in my other class? ”

“I know you wanted me to research, but I wrote from my own experiences. I hope that’s okay.”

Professors and tutors often hear questions and statements like these from students.  Where’s the learning?

Part of the problem is that students need motivation. It is not always enough to explain course objectives or spend time in seminar talking about the relevance of the topic to real-life application, although these are important. Sometimes we just need to allow for some options (“Enhancing education”, n.d.).  Consider the following:

  • Offer topic options that can fulfill the same requirements. For example, instead of having them write about how they would develop a network for a particular business, give them three scenarios from which they can choose. In a health class, give the students a list of diseases; they choose one to research.
  • Offer formatting options, if you can make the grading rubric work for both. For example, allow students to choose whether to write an APA paper or present their findings in a PowerPoint.

When students are given some options, they are more likely to feel like they are in control of their learning, even if they didn’t get to write about their favorite topic.  This positivity will likely be reflected in their research and their final product.

I should provide a disclaimer: not all assignments need to offer options. But placing some control in the students’ hands now and then can make learning a little more interesting. With a little creativity on our part, there are ways to avoid their complaint of not being able to pick the topic themselves and along the way provide a little more motivation for learning.



Enhancing education: Solve a teaching problem; students lack interest or motivation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellent & Educational Innovation: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-lackmotivation/lackmotivation-01.html


Becoming More Accountable for the Accountable

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor



Accountability is a wonderful word that is used quite a bit in higher education. In recent weeks, I wrestled with the idea of accountability within our construct of education. On one end of the spectrum we have the student: frustrated and confused by the assignment instructions.  On the other end, we find ourselves as educators wondering why our students fail to grasp these core concepts required of them.

To better understand this issue, it may  be best  to discuss that most students seek to expand their knowledge and obtain their degree of choice.  How, then, do we define our goals as educators to best assist our students? In short, educators should provide any and all materials necessary for a student to progress with hard work through the system of higher education. The basics, right? Well, invite our old friend accountability into the mix and watch the pressure unevenly rise. As instructors, we expect our students to conform to the norms of higher education: how to speak, how to write, how best to study, when to study, and even how to e-mail properly, just to name a few. Essentially, we are holding them accountable for a system of seemingly arbitrary academic writing rules that will, in every respect, help them successfully navigate through the channels of higher education.  Then, we somehow hit a brick wall at full speed.

To navigate this brick wall, the necessity to understand our students’ perspective remains key. As a student, the simplest of goals in any collegiate setting involves traveling through the coursework until the completion of the program. However, students enter a pre-existing academic discourse with a stringent set of rules that may not apply to their daily communication in other aspects of their lives.  Therefore, students must work hard to not only translate their own thoughts into a suitable format, but they must also translate our foreign-language-like discourse to better understand what we are trying to teach them. Add on top of that having to adhere to a prescribed format to produce the work in such as APA.  It is enough to make some people want to quit before even starting.

While most of our students come to our academic support centers well prepared and ready for a sound tutorial session, a few come to us, at times in tears, wondering how and why they ever got themselves into this mess. The questions range from simply understanding what the three letters “APA” stand for when placed together to what about their assignment is “abstract” and what they should do about it.    Usually, all these students need is a friendly voice and encouragement to help them calm down and look objectively at their work.  When we expose  students to the material at a rapid pace, it sends some of them into panic mode. We have seen an increase in courses requiring citation from entry-level students who, prior to this non-writing-intensive course, have never known APA and the stress that it inevitably induces upon first greeting. Just the same, when do we begin to hold ourselves (as educators) accountable for what our students do not “already know?” What is the best response? It may not be everyone’s favorite lesson to teach, but if a course requires  students to complete a given task for a particular assignment and more than one student had never been exposed to said material, should the student be blamed?

Our students want to succeed in their coursework and enjoy doing so. Now, by no means am I suggesting we offer all the answers for our students, taking away the difficulty of the work, or even providing too much for them to possibly be disingenuous—not at all. Instead, I think we can begin by re-evaluating what we ask of our students, and at what levels. For instance, if you are asking students to format their papers according to APA guidelines, show them how to do this quickly during a lecture to at least provide basic exposure. Then, given the vast resources already present at the university and the tutoring services, the student will be offered the best possible experience and chance to succeed.  Why not address the simpler situations head on by reviewing basics, helping to avoid further frustration on both sides.

Helping Students Learn to Revise and Edit Their Own Writing

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor



Providing effective feedback on students’ writing can be challenging, especially when we consider what we want students to be able to do based on our feedback.   As teachers and tutors, our goal is to help students become better writers and that means that they need to learn to revise and edit their own writing.   By using the following strategies, we can help students become independent revisers and editors.

  1. Do not make changes in the students’ writing.   While fixing the students’ work may be the easiest way to provide feedback, doing so does not help students learn to make their own corrections.  As a related example, my teenage daughter hates it when she is trying to learn a new cooking task, and I “help” by doing it for her, and for good reason.  She has no immediate need to learn to do the task if I do the work for her, and the same is true for student writers.   Changing the students’ writing may also be detrimental because doing so does not allow students to make decisions about style and grammatical choices and may even cause them to lose interest in the writing process.  Instead of making corrections in the student’s writing, instructors and tutors can include detailed explanations in marginal comments.   Additionally, in our writing center, tutors record video feedback which enables them to demonstrate possible corrections and edits during paper reviews and then click “undo” so that students can gain practice in correcting these issues on their own.
  2. Do not comment on every error or instance of error in the students’ writing.   I have actually heard students say things like “There are X number of comments on my paper.  I must be a very bad writer.”   Instead of commenting on all the issues or errors in students’ writing, choose the areas that are most important.   In our writing center, we often address higher order concerns first.  When we do comment on lower order concerns like grammatical or punctuation errors, we look for patterns of error.  Typically, we will point out only the first error and then tell students to locate other errors like the ones we have marked in their writing.   By doing this, we are teaching them to edit their own writing.
  3. Also, teach  students how  to identify and correct errors in their writing.  When students are able to identify patterns of error in their writing, they can learn to correct them.  One strategy that they can try  is to keep an error log.  I did this when I was an undergraduate, and I found it extremely helpful.     Each time an instructor returned a paper to me, I noted my errors on a list I kept in a separate folder.  Then, before submitting each paper, I reviewed the error log and specifically checked my submission for the errors listed.  This enabled me to not only avoid these errors but also to become a better writer capable of editing my own work.    As a tutor, I often share strategies with students that will help them learn to be their own editors.  For example, if I notice a pattern of run-on sentences in a student’s paper, I explain how the student can locate one type of this error in his or her writing by looking for coordinating conjunctions joining two complete sentences.  I tell them what the coordinating conjunctions are (For, And, Not, But, Or, Yet, So) and explain that they can use the mnemonic FANBOYS to help them remember them in order to identify run-on sentences in their writing.
  4. Finally, always encourage students to read their work aloud or enlist a friend or family member to read their work aloud to them.  Many tutors and academic support centers have students read their writing aloud in face to face and synchronous tutorial sessions.   Reading aloud is a great way for students to check for meaning, organization, tone, and grammatical errors.     Reading aloud also helps students develop audience awareness as they can hear how their writing might sound to someone else.  The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (2014) has compiled an informative handout that enumerates the many benefits of reading aloud and includes excellent suggestions for software and web-based apps that online students can use to have their computers do the reading for them.

From making careful decisions to how we give feedback on students’ writing and how much we give to encouraging students to take charge of their own writing processes through errors logs, error identification, and reading out loud, we can help students become independent writers who can revise, proofread, and edit their own writing.


The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   (2014).  Reading aloud.  Retrieved from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/reading-aloud/

Writing the Writer, Part 1

Molly Wright Starkweather, Writing Center Tutor, Kaplan University

This blog entry is the first of a two-entry discussion around anonymity as a productive starting point for online students wishing to make genuine connections as they learn.

In 1994, David Coogan wrote in “Towards a Rhetoric of Online Tutoring” that “Without the ‘distracting’ elements of personality, computer mediated discourse establishes a more egalitarian atmosphere” (p. 4). Synchronous online tutoring acts as the best setting for developing personality elements germane to the context of improving writing through forming a meaningful academic relationship between tutor and tutee. These personality elements, while not always distracting, as they may be in a face-to-face setting, are not as lacking as they would be in an asynchronous setting. The writer, when beginning a session somewhat anonymously, shows the most important aspects of identity for the context. By not knowing any personal details about a student who logs in with just a name, tutors know only the basic information about that student, thereby reinforcing that the writer understands that he or she is a writer seeking help.

Many students start off as confessional because of that anonymity, saying “I’m not a writer” or “I just failed my last writing assignment,” and that is helpful to get the conversation going about just what makes a writer (someone who writes) and how difficult it is to write (how even great writers fail). The details come out pretty quickly as they are necessary. Trust, however, becomes more difficult to establish, so educators must play up hospitality much more in the online setting since they do not know what kind of physical environment the student is in.  There is no furniture, candy dish, or stress balls around to defuse tension coming into a consultation; instead, educators must create a safe space within a tutoring room,  including an accepting person to help with the writing, no matter who is on the other end of the screen.

In the standard writing center setting, which is face to face, training guides include advice that is specific to sharing a physical space. Mimic a student’s body language, one director advises (Harris, 2000). Another guide says to sit next to the student, making sure to sit to the student’s right if the student is right-handed, to make sure to keep distance to prevent oneself from writing on the student’s paper (Brooks, 2001). The vast majority of the advice given in training for effective writing center tutoring can apply to synchronous online settings as well as face-to-face settings. Across the board, a writing center worker is likely to find the following as pieces of advice when training to become a tutor:

  • Greet each student warmly and make a plan for the tutoring session.
  • Focus on higher order concerns and only significant patterns of lower order concerns.
  • Offer resources for students to refer to as they improve a particular skill.
  • Follow up with the student after the tutoring session.

During the tutoring session, tutors are responsible for creating a hospitable environment in which a student feels comfortable sharing his or her writing for feedback. Writing centers facilitate this environment by inviting students to collaborate on the agenda for a tutoring session, emphasizing the authority of the student as the writer, and offering feedback without formal assessment (no grading) of the student’s writing. All of these measures establish an egalitarian framework in which students can improve their writing skills.

Where online settings edge out physical writing centers is in any circumstance where the writer feels that a physical setting would prevent focus being on the writing itself. Potential distractions from focusing on the writing might include the following:

  • Accessibility due to a documented disability
  • Identity as a traditional student due to age/time spent away from school
  • Cultural identity due to diverse racial/ethnic identity
  • Language barriers due to speaking English among other languages

These potential distractions might reside primarily with the student in being self-conscious, or these distractions might also reside with the tutor working with the student (also likely feeling self-conscious). The fact is that when a student is significantly different from what has been culturally inscribed as “traditional” for a university student’s identity, those added factors—age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, etc.—have to be negotiated in the meta-conversation of how the tutor and tutee will discuss the writing. In a physical writing space, that meta-conversation might involve one of several approaches, including “We just are going to ignore the fact that you are different,” “We are going to address the fact that you are different immediately and establish how okay that is,” and “We are going to let you bring up your differences only if you feel it is important to the conversation about your writing.” While all tutors strive for this last approach, the most effective way to guarantee a student’s identity comes up in the context of discussing the writing itself is for the space to allow the writer to compose his or her own identity as part of that discussion.

©2015 Clipart.com

©2015 Clipart.com


Brooks, J. (2001). Minimalist tutoring: Making the student do all the work. In Barnett, R. & Blumner, J. (Eds.), The Allyn and Bacon guide to writingcenter theory and practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Coogan, D. (1994, March). Towards a rhetoric of on-line tutoring. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Nashville, TN.

Harris, M. (2000). Talk to me: Engaging reluctant writers.  In B. Rafoth (Ed.), A tutor’s guide: Helping writers one to one (pp. 24-34). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

If You Give Every Student 100%

Dr. Tamara Fudge, School of Business and IT Faculty, Kaplan University

Of course I want to encourage my students, but simply slapping a perfect 100% on all assignments each week is not really encouragement; it can be the death of student curiosity, critical thinking, and true education.

Recently I asked my students via course announcements if they have done even just one of these, ever:

  • Accidentally locked themselves out of their car, house, or office
  • Gotten a traffic or parking ticket
  • Forgotten to call someone when they said they would
  • Tripped walking up the stairs, or worse, in front of someone
  • Burned something on the stove or fried it in the microwave

We could add more to the list, but the point is that we are human. We make mistakes. These don’t have to be humongous mistakes, but we make little errors all the time, because life is not a 100% game.

When grading, I weigh infractions with consequences. Some mistakes, like a forgotten phone call, might simply be mentioned in the grading comments but won’t cost points. Others, like a traffic ticket, will have to cost some points.  Yes, I tell them some things they did that were good, but they need to know what to fix for future work, too. It is important to point out even the little things, because the next time they run up the stairs, they might be more careful. I want to see them stop tripping.

To the student who tells me she wants 100% and gets upset if it’s 99.99%, I say this: Once you feel you have reached perfection, you’re done. You have no more learn, no more ideas to seek, no more growing to enrich your life. Take every point deduction as a challenge to be better, to learn how not to trip again.

Having been a recent student myself, I found that getting 100% for all my assignments in a few courses felt like I wasn’t learning. What is it I don’t know? How can I improve?  Did you actually read my paper? Do you care about me?

Probably everyone knows Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s a children’s book based on a cyclical set of red herring fallacies – statements that draw you away from the main ideas. With an apology to Ms. Numeroff’s brilliance:

If you give every student 100%,

You have taught them that they are perfect.


If you teach them that they are perfect,

They will refuse to learn.


If they refuse to learn,

They will forget how to learn.


If they forget how to learn,

Their bosses will notice.


If their bosses notice,

They will fire said students.


If said students get fired,

Their options include going back to school.


If their options include going back to school,

They will have to accept the fact that they are human, and they are not perfect.

And as I wrote in that aforementioned classroom announcement, “Remember that you are human. 100% means superhero strength, which is not expected of humans, but is attainable sometimes.” I think I will ask someone to cross stitch that on a pillow for me.

You can probably tell I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour grueling Saturday grading-and-outreach session. It takes me a long time to grade assignments because I care about my students and their learning.  Although I do give full points to those who deserve them, I will not just give away a perfect score.  School is for stretching to reach that rainbow, and sometimes a point away from perfect is the ladder they need to get there.