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Recently, a member of our community asked the question In what way is the poem 'Tissue' by Imtiaz Dharker related to power / conflict?. This question was based on a question from what I think is a practice test for a national exam.

What's our policy on these sorts of questions?

  • The question is a question that has been announced as being potentially on the actual test, according to the asker. – Benjamin Mar 4 '17 at 23:59
  • A separate bit of the paper is an 'unseen' poetry exam. You have to think on your feet and analyse one poem from one question in 10 mins. I'm talking about a completely different 15-poem test, where you have to structure a well-organised response comparing how 2 writers with different poems use X to present human/natural/political X. It's designed to see how well a candidate can apply knowledge of a remembered poem based on things told to you during the course, to a question, and another poem provided. Neither the question nor the poem is defined. – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 0:19
  • I don't think I could parrot the information gained from this and get away with it, do you? "At the top of the level, a candidate's response is likely to be clear, sustained and consistent. It is a focused comparison which demonstrates a clear understanding. It will use a range of references effectively to illustrate and justify an explanation; there will be a clear explanation of the effects of a range of writer's methods supported by appropriate use of subject terminology. Clear understanding of ideas/perspectives/contextual factors." – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 0:23
  • @Hamlet Was I supposed to comment on this, by the way? My arguments are obviously going to be biased, so I'm not sure how this works. Let me know. – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 0:43
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    @LauraCookson you're absolutely aloud to leave comments and participate in the discussion. My recommendation would be to take these comments and move them to an answer. That way your thoughts will be visible, people can vote on your comments and show if they agree or disagree, and it will be easier for people to respond/ask followup questions. – user111 Mar 5 '17 at 0:56
  • Will do, @Hamlet. I'll even include an unenthusiastic, I mean enthusiastic, counter-argument! :D – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 1:05
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TL;DR: whether or not a question is based on homework should be mostly irrelevant to how we treat it, unless there's some cheating or other unethical behaviour going on.


Here's my basic rationale: every question should be evaluated on its own merits. Our goal is to build a repository of great questions and answers about literature, and (for the most part) we shouldn't care where those questions and answers come from. If someone asks an interesting and on-topic question about literature, let's not close it just because it came from the OP's homework assignment.

In any case, such a policy would be counter-productive. Since we often can't tell whether a particular question came from homework or not, any OP who wanted to sneak their homework question past an anti-homework policy could easily do so just by not admitting it was a homework question. If there was a particular type of question under consideration here, as opposed to simply a particular place of origin, then this argument wouldn't hold water; but I don't think there is. Homework questions can be either good or bad, regardless of their origins or inspiration.

That said, there are some potential issues which could arise from such questions:

  1. Plagiarism. If people copy questions word-for-word from literature tests without crediting the original author, that could be a problem for our site. The users and moderators here wouldn't bear any legal responsibility - DMCA takedown notices are handled by Stack Exchange the company - but legal issues aren't something we want Literature SE to get involved with on any level.

    There's a help centre page on plagiarism and how to reference external material, which is highly relevant here. If people credit the original source, or (even better) rewrite the question in their own words rather than copy-pasting, this problem will be greatly diminished.

  2. Cheating. Ethically, we don't really want to help people cheat; on the other hand, the arguments I made above, about evaluating questions on their own merits regardless of where they came from, are still valid. For a reasonable compromise, I suggest we use the same policy as Maths SE and Puzzling SE: close/lock/delete all questions from ongoing timed contests (are there such contests in literature?), and restore them once the contest is over. That way, we avoid helping people cheat, but still end up with useful content preserved on our site for posterity.

Of course, the Be Nice policy still applies. Leaving a comment like "hey, is this a homework question?" is OK, but saying "you filthy cheat, you're too lazy to do your own homework" isn't. (Not that I'm expecting to see many comments of the latter type here on Literature; this advice is inspired by these Stack Overflow guidelines.) We should assume good faith unless there's good reason not to, and in the latter case let the moderators deal with it. Conversely, of course, OPs asking homework questions should be honest about doing so, and abide by their school or university's policy.


References and related reading:

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    Only one major note: when it comes to moderation, plagiarism isn't a legal problem, it's an ethical one. – Aza Mar 5 '17 at 3:38
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    Oh lol.. "References rand related reading" you couldn't have forced alliteration there any better, Rand! 😂 – muru Mar 5 '17 at 3:50
  • Another note: homework and ongoing contests in the field of literature function differently than homework and ongoing contests do for math or computer science. So I'm not sure how relevant those examples are. (I'll write more on this when I had time.) – user111 Mar 5 '17 at 6:45
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    Thanks @Rand al'Thor. +1 for "any OP who wanted to sneak their homework question past an anti-homework policy could easily do so just by not admitting it was a homework question" – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 11:35
  • @Hamlet Yes, I suspected there might be some big differences there, but I'm not really experienced with literature homework or 'contests' beyond GCSE level. – Rand al'Thor Mar 5 '17 at 14:54
  • @yannis Which is rather like the policy on underage users, but there's not much we can do about that :-/ – Rand al'Thor Mar 5 '17 at 23:33
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N.B: I am the person who asked the question about Tissue in the first place. See here for more responses about the issue.

People are worried it's unfair to produce content that may be helpful to revise from for people like me who will be sitting an exam that may involve that poem. Indeed, there is one question where Tissue is one of 15 poems we may be asked about.

This is a compare question, and you're not supposed to think on your feet (see mark scheme below). That's for the unseen poetry test . Anyone will have access to your observations, and I wasn't asking you to produce a polished comparison essay, but a few bullet points about POWER in Tissue. Here are a few subjects (of the 15-poem question) that the teachers have pointed out as likely:

Power of Humans, Power of Nature, Effects of Conflict, Reality of Conflict, Loss and Absence, Memory, Negative Emotion [anger/guilt/fear/pride], Identity, Individual Experiences.

Compare how the writer presents X (e.g. Identity) in X (e.g. My Last Duchess), and one other poem from your Power and Conflict anthology.

The 14 other poems are well-known, interesting, and discussable in class - e.g, Ozymandias - but Tissue is five times more demanding, and has lots of strange concepts which are harder to break down. This is from the 2018 GCSE syllabus, with mock exams in May/June of this year and next year. The 15-poems question is 45 minutes. You are given one of the poems you've studied, but you have to compare it to another one that you remember.

Anything that doesn't answer the question gets no marks. E.g, I once said

"In Exposure, Owen uses the first-person plural pronoun 'we' to present the soldier's opinion as universal, whereas the writer of Bayonet Charge uses the third-person singular pronoun 'he' to make it sound like one man's story."

This was irrelevant to "how the writer presents the power of nature", so that point was worth 0. No-one will get away with parroting random points about the poem, such as POWER, which is the only think I'm asking for help with. The exam is designed to more sophisticated now. You cannot get more than a level 3 (grade D) for doing that even if the question is about power.

Here are some links to the real specification: Here for poetry / here for exemplar responses / here for examiners' assessment objectives :

Or, read my paraphrased specification. I've bolded the text that bolsters my argument:

  • Read fluently, and with good understanding, a wide range of literary texts

  • Evaluate poetry critically and make clear, focused, sustained and consistent comparisons between texts

  • Summarise and synthesise ideas from poetry, showing a clear understanding of both texts
  • Use knowledge gained from wide reading to inform and improve their own writing
  • Write effectively and coherently using Standard English appropriately

  • Acquire and apply a wide vocabulary, alongside a knowledge and understanding of grammatical terminology, and linguistic conventions for reading, writing and spoken language

  • Use a range of references from both poems effectively to illustrate and justify an explanation
  • Demonstrate an understanding of perspectives and contextual factors in both poems.
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    This is the new and much-improved version of the old GCSE, which used to give a whole hour, allowed your anthology + all the notes in it, and the top grade was more accessible (too many people got A*). How redundant that old system was. There's no coursework now: it's all based on what you remember on the day, which is a truly great innovation. Becaus in real life you never create content with access to prior studies, and you never get the chance to improve upon work that's been reviewed. – Parallax Sugar Mar 5 '17 at 11:28
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    You've convinced me. This exam seems to be about comparative understanding, and if Literature.SE can serve as that educational resource, that seems to be a fulfillment of its primary function, not a conflict with it. Since I don't think anyone else is awake, I've reopened the question. – Aza Mar 5 '17 at 11:58
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My feeling is that "do my homework for me" questions should be closed. On Writers, those are closed under the Tell Me What To Write rubric.

Laura's question in particular is borderline, but seems to be erring on the side of caution. She's asking for help interpreting something so she can answer the question in her own words.

Something which is an interesting question which also happens to be an essay, well, we can't determine that, as Rand notes. I don't mind answering those if they can serve a larger purpose.

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I just answered Language in A View from the Bridge which I'm fairly sure is a homework question. I left a comment on the bottom, saying as much. If that's not thought constructive, please let me know.

I studied A View From the Bridge in college and answered various similar questions many years ago. I also took a course on T.S. Elliott which I found highly obtuse. So I went to the library, took out a study guide, and used it to help me write one of the highest scoring essays in the class.

I felt a bit bad about it and went to the lecturer. She told me not to worry, that that was the point of study guides. And that as long as I hadn't plagerised it (which I hadn't) there was no problem. In recycling some of the points made in the guide in my own language alongside my own points I had shown that I understood what I'd read in the guide. That I'd used it to deepen my own learning, rather than as a prop to do an easy homework.

The point of this anecdote is to illustrate that helping with homework questions is fine, indeed I'd say it's to be encouraged, so long as it's not a case of a user asking for help repeatedly. I would suggest that it is helpful if such questions are identified (possibly tagged?) because it might result in the OP getting more useful "school level" answers.

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    I'm not sure if a homework tag would work well. In the past on other sites, they've just caused a lot of arguments—some people hate homework questions altogether, others want to give 'hints' and some think that you should just answer them like any other question. It can also end up with 'is this homework?' comments on lots of questions, which don't really help anyone. If it's a clear, answerable and interesting question, answer it. If it's unclear, ask for clarification. Adding 'is this homework?' into the equation isn't helpful in my opinion. – Aurora0001 May 3 '17 at 14:55
  • I'm with Aurora0001: I don't think we should answer these questions differently. Also, that essay was technically plagiarized; even if you put something in your own words, you need to cite the source of the ideas. But I do wish we could get people to specify the source of their question; it's just when I ask people in the comments, people tend to not do it, even when its obvious that they got the question from a study guide. (Also, you had a really good answer there, +1) – user111 May 3 '17 at 15:15

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