More on Cheat Sheets

I wrote a couple of days ago about cheat sheets and wanted to follow up on that just a tad. Yrjö Engeström has a piece in CHAT Technical Reports out of Kansai University (you can download a pdf of the piece here; thanks to PP for turning me on to this article) that does a very nice job of discussing vernacular genres of cheat sheets.

Engeström describes how "cheating is contestation of the given activity system of school-going," and then not only gives us visual examples of vernacular cheat sheets, but also discusses his clever pedagogical response to what he learns from this kind of writing.

(click to enlarge; note that these are cheating belts designed to be worn during an exam)

Engeström's pedagogical uptake from this research is not to militate against cheating in obvious, confrontational or prohibitive ways, but to teach about cheating as literate practice. He writes:
"Cheating is an important form of student agency. By creating and using a cheating slip, the student controls his or her own behavior with the help of a tool he or she made. The hard part is the construction of a good cheating slip—the design phase or the 'closure part' of the agentic action."

From this, I can see a useful assignment in which students cover a lot of material and create a cheat sheet that is then explained and assessed in lieu of an exam or final paper.

This kind of response reminds me very powerfully of Mike's plagiarism assignment that, instead of approaching plagiarism confrontationally, sees it as a complex practice that can be most productively militated against by getting inside it and figuring it out as literate activity.

I mentioned, in my last post on cheat sheets, that one thing that interests me about them is their status as disposable writing (and found Friday is fast approaching!), and in that way cheat sheets are similar to electronic forms of cheating (texting during an exam, e.g.) in that both forms of writing are expressly for one rhetorical accomplishment—the test—and valueless after that moment.


  1. I got the answer for this comment off my left inner ankle.

  2. that one's about as permanent as they get, I guess! :)

  3. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Do you know who are seriously incorrigible cheaters? The Germans. Seriously. Germans in school and in college culturally don't usually see a problem with cheating; most teachers don't, either, really. It's widely practiced and widely accepted--I suspect because of an underlying class-based sense of entitlement. So, when I was teaching English in Germany, I felt compelled to make it harder for my class to cheat on their first exam of the semester. The way I did that was twofold. First, I announced to the class that there were five different versions of the exam, and sure enough people looked over at their neighbors' exams and they all *looked* different. A collective sag of the classroom's faces ensued. Second, actually what I did was reorder the sections of the exam and different fonts, and in fact made only two, not five, versions of the test, so my grading was not made more difficult. The result? Much better performance in class during the rest of the semester and higher grades on the final than on that first exam.

    Oh, and after that first exam 25% of the class dropped. Got rid of the lazy riff-raff immediately. :-)


  4. How culturally insensitive of you to deny your students' their socio-cultural-educational practices! :)

    Engeström talks a bit, in the article I mention in a later post, about cheating/plagiarism being cultural, and there was, a while back, a nice exhibit of Russian cheating tools a while back.