I think one of my students is going to fail the Shakespeare course. This is a new and upsetting experience; that is, of course I've flunked students before, but they have always been students who were actively complicit in their failure -- the ones who stopped coming to class, or didn't turn in assignments, or turned in a Wikipedia entry as their term paper and didn't even have the wit to claim they wrote it.
This student is legitimately trying. She's also woefully unprepared for an upper-level Shakespeare class and has no clue how to write an academic essay. She managed to scrape by with a D+ on the first paper, since she made a good-faith attempt to follow the guidelines. The second paper, which was supposed to be a summary and response to a critical article, was massively plagiarized, but it wasn't an Internet cut-and-paste job; it was the sort of plagiarism students commit when they don't really understand what they're reading and therefore haven't the foggiest idea how to paraphrase or summarize it. You know, "The author talks of how the subject is interpolated into a preconceptualist paradigm of reality. Also, he say that promotes the use of the posttextual paradigm of reality to deconstruct hierarchy."* That kind of plagiarism.
I highlighted the plagiarized passages on the first page, explained why it was a problem and told her that she would need to add quotation marks and citations or else paraphrase thoroughly, and advised her to focus on putting the parts of the essay she did understand into her own words and not to worry about trying to paraphrase stuff she didn't. And I gave her a week to rewrite for a maximum grade of C. (Honestly, I would be shocked if the final version earned a higher grade than C in any event.)
She said she wasn't very good at English, and the last time she'd taken a comp course was in 1992. Holy fuck. I don't know who advised her that taking an upper-level Shakespeare course would be a good idea. (She is a "general studies" major, which is Misnomer U.-speak for "this student started off in a preprofessional program but wasn't able to pass the qualifying exams; in theory, they are supposed to be taking a study skills seminar and getting some intensive advising, but it doesn't seem to be working in this case.)
I don't know if I did the right thing by giving her a second chance. I'm not sure there is a right thing to do in this situation (it is too late for her to drop the course now, and I don't think she would drop in any case because she said she needs another English course to graduate in December). On the one hand, this is very, very clearly not a student who intended to plagiarize, and we're meant to be educating students, not penalizing them for not already being educated, yes? On the other hand, it's just as clear that she hasn't come close to mastering the academic skills graduating seniors are expected to master, and almost certainly will not master them in the next few weeks. I'm putting this as if it were an academic problem, but of course it's a human one, too. It seems like a cruel cat-and-mouse game to lead a student on for almost two decades, taking her money and pretending to give her an education in return, and at last offering her a nearly meaningless degree. And yet it seems equally cruel to say no, you're not going to graduate after all, we know you tried your best but sometimes that's not good enough.
Ugh. I don't know what to do in situations like this.
* This is not an actual quotation from the essay; I made it up with a little help from the Postmodernism Generator. But you get the idea.