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“Is there anything you want to tell me, Simon?” I asked in an email message. “I would like to talk to you about your quiz, but before I do that I’d like to give you a chance to tell me anything you think I ought to know.” 

You see Simon, who is normally an in-person student, was remote that day. Strange, I thought at first without paying it too much attention. But then perhaps not unexplainable, I began to suspect later, when I saw that Simon’s quiz was virtually identical to another student’s answers. 

They are close friends, and although Simon has been in-person, Simon’s friend has been struggling as a remote student. Accustomed to making good grades and tremendously frustrated by the challenges of being remote and some other perhaps more serious challenges at home, Simon’s friend was distraught.

And they seem to have collaborated on the quiz. Not only were their answers identical, but so were their mistakes. And they both coincidentally omitted the same problem from their turned-in work.

Simon fessed up in his reply. Moments later, Simon’s friend sent a separate message accepting all blame, asking that Simon not be penalized.


They were truly busted. You see, I had not told them anything other than asking Simon if he had something he wanted to tell me. 

I sent the a message to the two of them — the first time we were all “talking together”…

First of all, I just want both of you to know that I am very proud to be a teacher of two students so dedicated to supporting each other. In so many ways, you both are awesome.

Secondly, typically in this case both students get a zero. This isn’t a typical case. I’ll give you what you scored on the quizzes you submitted. The scores aren’t particularly great, so there’s probably room for … improvement.

Here’s what I ask…

And so I proposed that they collaborate on a new version of the test that I would send them. This one would have the answers (as do their homework assignments). I told them that I expected them to solve all the problems, show all their work, do the work neatly, and furthermore explain their work to me. And finally, I asked them to put a box around their answers and put a checkmark next to the box if their answers agreed with mine.

“This won’t be for a grade,” I told them. “And I don’t want it to jeopardize your six-week grades in your other classes. But I want you to learn this material. Maybe this will help.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, they took me up on the offer.