Friday, 21 August 2009

Tricher ou pas tricher...

Last term, one of my more challenging students got full marks for the first time in a vocabulary test. When I congratulated him, he said, "I cheated." I asked him, "How?" He replied, in all sincerity, "I memorised the words before the test." "I wish my GCSE students would do that," I said.
You may have read this story recently, where 3 modern languages teachers were suspended over allegations of cheating in GCSE exams. This school is not alone; there are other schools under investigation at the time of writing this.

To be accused of cheating in a public exam is, obviously, a very serious allegation and I hope that, for their sake, when the investigation is over, the teachers involved will be found to have done nothing wrong.

So, what is cheating? My student was convinced he had acted in a devious, underhand way, but he had done nothing wrong at all.

We have all heard (and probably told!) anecdotal stories of teachers "bending the rules" or "misinterpreting the rules" and giving their students a little too much help with coursework and there may be a case for many more schools, acting in a similar way, to be accused of cheating.

Is "bending the rules" cheating? Well, nowadays, I suppose it all depends who you are and whether you get caught.

If it was a sporting situation, perhaps they would be guilty of "gamesmanship": "Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end." (Lumpkin, Stoll and Beller, 1994)

Gamesmanship is rife in sport. We have all seen it. There is a certain tennis player, who has such a terrible cough (just before an opponent's serve), I feel should be at home in bed rather than on the court. But is it cheating? I think so.

Back to learning languages. Obviously, giving the students the questions in advance of a test is cheating. Is preparing students thoroughly for an exam cheating? Is going through past exam papers cheating? Is doing a mock exam cheating?

AQA, an exam board I have used for more than 10 years, publishes past exam papers and sample questions along with mark shemes and examiners' reports on their website. They even publish model questions for the speaking test. The same types of questions come up year after year. I use these with my students as a means of revision and practising exam technique, as I'm sure most teachers do. This is not cheating and having all these resources means that you shouldn't need to cheat.

What makes a professional cross the line and feel that he or she has to cheat? Pressure from a departmental head? Pressure from schools to achieve targets and move up the league tables? Performance management targets? Performance related pay? Attracting more students to study a language and thereby saving jobs? The ability to say to your colleagues in other subjects, "Our results are better than yours"?

What I find sad about these teachers who are caught cheating is that they have probably been doing it, and getting away with it, for years.

What kind of example does it set to our students?

A wise man once said, "There are no bad students, only bad teachers."
Okay, it was Mr Miyagi in "The Karate Kid", but he does have a point.


aliceayel said...

Very good post. I like the ending :)
I also like the comparison with sports! I do think the way exams are done need to change anyway...especially the coursework part.

Dom said...

Thanks for your comment, Alice. I agree with you about the changes - I've never been a fan of coursework. Too many opportunities for shenanigans in my opinion.