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Put an End to Plagiarism in Your Classroom

 

According to a report by Plagiarism.org, "Studies indicate that approximately 30 percent of all students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they complete." Kids plagiarize for a variety of reasons. Some kids are lazy, some are unmotivated, some are disorganized, and some just don't understand what plagiarism really is. Whatever the reasons, a few simple steps can help you put an end to plagiarism in your classroom. Included: A printable Student Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism.

In 2002, a high school teacher in Piper, Kansas, resigned after the local school board ordered her to raise the grades of 28 students who had failed her course after being caught plagiarizing on a semester-long research project. According to the teacher, the students had been warned about the consequences of plagiarizing and deserved their failing grades. Many parents felt differently, however. They said their children didn't realize that copying information from the Internet was plagiarizing, and that the penalty for their ignorance was too harsh.

Whatever the facts, the case dramatically illustrates a problem that has become increasingly common with the growing use of the Internet in our nation's classrooms. According to Plagiarism.org, studies indicate that approximately 74 percent of students admit plagiarizing at least once during the past school year. And a study conducted by Rutgers University researcher Donald McCabe found that more than half the high school students surveyed had used material copied from the Internet in research papers. Fifteen percent said they had turned in reports copied entirely off the Internet -- or purchased on the Internet.

Why do kids plagiarize? According to Robert Harris, the author of Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers, kids plagiarize because they want to finish the work in the least possible amount of time, because the work is not a priority for them, because they procrastinate, because they have poor time and work management skills, and because they have no confidence in their own writing abilities. Some students, of course, plagiarize because they can, and others really don't know they are plagiarizing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

When assigning research paper, teachers can employ strategies to minimize plagiarizing in their classrooms, no matter what their students' reasons might be:

  • Make sure your students know that plagiarism will not be tolerated. Don't just tell them that plagiarism is wrong; talk with them about intellectual property rights -- their own and others'. Discuss the specific consequences of plagiarizing in your classroom, and make it clear that those consequences will apply whether the plagiarizing is deliberate or unintentional.
  • Discuss with students all the forms that plagiarizing can take. Don't assume they know that copying a passage from a magazine is as much plagiarizing as buying a research paper from a Web site. Point out that plagiarism is not exactly the same as copyright infringement. Material created by the federal government, for example, is copyright free, but the source must be acknowledged in a research paper. Copyright laws do not apply to spoken words or ideas. The requirement to cite those sources does.
  • Avoid assigning general topics for research papers. Papers geared toward narrow topics specific to your own curriculum are less likely to be available online. Make your assigned topics as interesting as possible, so students will be more likely to want to do the work themselves.
  • Review the note-taking process. Insist that students include citations on all notes, put quotes around notes taken directly from a source, and indicate work that is closely paraphrased. Point out that Web sites can change, and have them print the Web pages of any information they get online.
  • Provide students with a copy of the bibliography format you prefer, and have them create their bibliographies as they take notes, filling in all the required information, and linking each citation to the correct set of notes. Make sure they know how to cite electronic sources as well as print sources.
  • Require that students submit a signed "letter of transmittal" with their reports. In the letter, have them reflect on the research and writing process and explain what they learned.
  • Let students know that you are familiar with Web sites that sell or give away research papers. If possible, download a paper from one of the free sites and grade it with your students. Make them aware that the quality of the available work does not meet your standards.
  • Explain to students that you will check any questionable sources or uncited material. Tell them to keep their notes and printed Web pages until they've received their final grades.
  • Don't simply assign a paper and wait for the final version. Set deadlines for research notes and bibliographies, for outlines, and for rough drafts. Check the work in progress.
  • Distribute to students Education World's Student Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism.

Plagiarism can be a difficult concept for many students to understand. So much of what they discover in the process of creating a research paper is new to them, it can seem as though the entire paper consists of someone else's work. The temptation to omit citing some sources is great. In addition, determining at the end of the process, which ideas are a result of the research and which are taken directly from the research can be difficult.

In order to avoid plagiarism, students need to understand that the purpose of a research paper is to learn; to absorb information, internalize it, understand it, and explain it -- not just to research and write it. They need to keep in mind that "plagiarism occurs when a sequence of ideas is transferred from a source to a paper without the process of digestion, integration, and reordering in the writer's mind, and without acknowledgment in the paper." (Source: "A Note on Plagiarism" from the Mansfield University Student Handbook)
 

Article by Linda Starr
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