Although cheating is a bigger concern with middle and high school students, it is not uncommon among elementary school children. The pressure to do well in school that often gives rise to cheating among older students also can affect younger children.
Elementary school teachers, therefore, play a key role in conveying the importance of honesty in school and helping students learn to take pride in their own work. To that end, it is important to make sure that younger students understand what cheating is, especially those students who are used to working in collaborative groups. Students who are accustomed to working together and sharing information might not fully understand that it is inappropriate to copy the work of others when working independently.
This week's column discusses the steps you can take to prevent student cheating. Next week, we will focus on what to do about a student who has cheated.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Talk with students about cheating. Begin by explaining your policy about cheating and the consequences of cheating in your classroom. Encourage students to discuss the issue by asking how they feel when they earn a good grade by studying hard and how they feel when they get a good grade by copying the answers from someone else. Ask why students might cheat and how they would feel if they found out one of their heroes had cheated. As you discuss the consequences of cheating, you might also point out that students who copy answers might be copying the wrong answers. Let them know that if they are tempted to cheat because they're having a problem with a subject, you are available to provide extra help.
Explain the rules before giving a test. You might, for example, tell students to clear their desks, face forward, keep their eyes on their own paper, and remain seated and silent until the test is over. Remind them of the consequences for cheating. Consider posting those rules in the classroom.
Change the room arrangement to minimize opportunities to cheat. Have students move their desks further apart when taking a test. You also might have them place simple barriers -- perhaps file folders -- on their desks to prevent their classmates from seeing their test papers.
Give students different versions of the same test. Creating different versions of the same test is easy with a computer. You don't have to change the questions on the alternate versions, just the order of the questions. Telling students you are doing this will discourage them from cheating. You don't even have to create different versions of the test to achieve the deterrent effect. Just label the tests Version A, Version B, and Version C, or run off the test on two or three different colored papers, so students think there are different versions of the test.
Have students explain their work. Tests that require students to explain their answers, either by showing the steps used to solve a math problem or by explaining the reasoning behind a response, minimize cheating. Those open-ended tests also allow you to give partial credit for students who use a correct process or demonstrate some understanding of the issue even if the final answer is incorrect.
Monitor students from the back of the room. Students are less likely to glance at a classmate's paper if they think you might be watching. Try circulating throughout the room, passing students in an unpredictable pattern, while being sure to walk past more frequently past those students who have a history of cheating.