questioning whether a student actually wrote an essay

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new teacher:
I read an essay froma  student. This student doesnt really apply himself very much in class, though he does attend every class. He is a bit of a smoothie, but his first essays weren't very good because he didnt seem to put much effort into them. I was reading this new essay and was amazed. Well written and well argued. But something is niggling at me thinking that had 'some help". It is not plagiarism but I just have the sense that he didnt write the essay, that another student might have helped him in some way in wording.

I don;'t have any evidence, just his past writing. Should I ask him about this..or should I just drop it, and wait and see how the next essay looks?

PS Other profs also report that this student is lazy too and doesnt do very well. But in my class I know several students have confronted this student over his attitude so maybe he is turning over a  new leaf?

Why are you ruling out plagiarism?

What I would do:
I wouldn't hand the student's paper back with the others.  This forces the student to come to me to ask for his paper.  Then, I'd say I found the paper "interesting" and wanted to talk to him about it and suggest an office hour appointment.  In this appointment, I would give the student the benefit of the doubt but ask questions related to the essay and ask how he came up with the thesis and so forth.   If the student can explain his writing, then I'm happy to praise him for his improvement.  If the student is at a loss and doesn't understand his own writing, then I ask if he got help with it, and the questions get tougher from there.


new teacher:
The nature of the essay doesnt enable plagiarism. No one has written on this topic before and the type of essay it is doesnt enable cribbing from the internet or a book.

Visiting ass't. prof.:
I would say that if the student got help from his peers or from the tutoring center on campus that that would be a good thing.  In college, my friends and I regularly read each others' drafts and helped each other with our papers, and I have used the tutoring center whenever I needed someone to look over something on short notice.  Perhaps these sources may have given the student "more help" than was actually beneficial for him in the end--providing too much guidance and nudging rather than allowing him to come to his own conclusions and ideas.  But even if this is the case, at least he will be able to see what a good paper looks like now that he has produced one (even if it had been with too much help).


If your school has a Writing Center, it is possible he or she went there for some help?


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