Student: Mrs. Le, can I tell you something? I only read up to chapter 7 of The Kite Runner.
Me: What? But your participation in the seminars was great. How did you do it?
Student: I just listened to the summaries at the beginning of each seminar and based my participation on them.
Me: <visibly shaken and upset by the revelation>
Student: I wish I had never told you this. You think differently of me now. I'll make it up to you. I'll give you three hundred dollars. I'll buy your daughters wardrobes from the best baby store.
Me: I don't want any of that. What I want is for you to actually complete the reading. Please actually read your ISU novel. That is all I want.
The confession and conversation made me feel small and stupid. How could a student write an essay on a novel he didn't even read? Where had I gone wrong in my teaching? I gave class time to read. The novel was broken down so that we only read a bit at a time. The essay was written entirely in class. How could this have happened?
Then I talked to a colleague and did some reflecting. Perhaps this student just worked smarter, not harder. He figured out that the regular seminars dissecting each chapter gave him the information he needed to understand the novel. He was still able to come up with a decent thesis and write a decent essay. I wonder how much better he could have done had he actually read the entire novel.
I don't know what other conclusions to draw from this experience, except that it hurts when a student doesn't fully complete his work. I know that students don't always do their work, but it's different when they actually confess.
I don't think poorly of this student. He has made me think about my teaching and the way students learn and that's a good thing.