I participated in a foreign language teachers session an EdCamp this weekend and one of the biggest topics of discussion was how to keep students from using online translators. Every foreign language teacher has stories of a first year student turning in an assignment with flawless use of tenses, moods, and vocabulary they haven’t even seen yet thanks to some unauthorized help from Google Translate. Those are they easy ones to pick out, but even if we catch a few a year, we’re fooling ourselves if we think that our students aren’t regularly taking technological shortcuts on their homework. How can we ensure our kids don’t undermine their own education by becoming dependent on translators? Here’s what we came up with:
Make Expectations Clear
Clearly communicate what you will and won’t allow students to do. The definition of cheating may be obvious to you and me, but students who have grown up using online resources may not understand why their teachers get so upset. I have my students sign a tech contract at the beginning of each year clearly explaining what they themselves need to do and how (and when) they are allowed to use online resources.
Explain Limitations of Translators
Along with explaining your translator policy, be sure to explain why translators are a bad idea. And don’t rely on the old “you won’t always have a translator with you” cliché. Smart phones are everywhere with apps that will translate spoken and written text on the fly, some without an Internet connection. You’re far better off demonstrating what happens when a translator can’t understand the context.
Promote Good Tools
Don’t just ban the things you don’t want them using. Give them alternatives that you’re OK with and demonstrate how to use them. I don’t like having students use Google Translate, but I do like them using SpanishDict.com and WordReference.com, so I promote those instead. If I can get my students using good resources, they’ll be less likely to rely to search for shortcuts on their own.
Personalize The Curriculum
Students will be more likely to be engaged (and less likely to cheat) if they’re studying something they find interesting or applicable to their lives. Not ready to abandon your textbook entirely? Pick one chapter you don’t like and allow the students to create their own unit instead. Or just allow them to modify the vocabulary in every chapter.
Anticipate and De-incentivize Cheating
Start by assuming your students will want to take shortcuts, then try to take away the incentive to do so. Don’t send them home with a large assignment worth a high percentage of their grade. Give small, manageable, low-stakes, formative assignments when you won’t be around to supervise. Demand handwritten work if you think they’ll be too tempted to copy and paste from a translator. Save the high stakes, summative stuff for when you can watch them like a hawk. Speaking of which…
Flip Your Classroom
Instead of lecturing during the class period and then sending students home to work on assignments without your help or supervision, have students learn the vocabulary or grammar concept at home the night before, then work on “homework” the next day at school under your watchful eye. Videotape your own lessons, or assign other videos or online resources (I’m kind of partial to Spanish411.net).
Use Higher Order Thinking Skills
This was a great idea from a Latin teacher. Knowing that there’s nothing written in Latin that hasn’t already been translated, he gives students a Latin text along with several different English translations. The task is not to translate from Latin to English but to pick which English translation is best and defend their decision. Not only is this a higher order thinking skill and a more real-life application, it virtually eliminates the ability to cheat. The teacher already gave you the translation!