When deciding how to respond to students who cheat, teachers need to think not just about punishing the behavior, but also about correcting it. Simply providing undesirable consequences for cheating, without focusing on the underlying reasons for the behavior, can have the effect of making students more crafty cheaters.
Correcting the behavior requires finding out why a student cheated and addressing his needs. At the same time, you need to recognize that in responding to a student who has cheated, you send an important message to other students about the consequences of cheating. Failure to confront a child who cheats might lead your other students to believe that they too can cheat with impunity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Speak privately with the student. If you are certain a student was cheating, talk with him after class; do not embarrass him publicly. Assume a calm and serious demeanor, but avoid expressions of anger. Accusing a student of cheating likely will elicit a denial. Also, avoid trying to trick him into an admission of cheating. Instead describe what you saw and let him know that you are disappointed in his behavior.
Provide consequences. Consider the student's age, sensitivity level, and history of cheating when assigning consequences. With a young elementary student, you might simply inform him that copying is not permitted, move his desk away from other students, and allow him to continue. With an older student, you might quietly pick up his test paper and ask him to see you after class. Later, tell him he will have to retake the test and that his second test score will be averaged with a zero on the first test. Point out that if the behavior recurs, he will receive a failing grade without the chance for a retake. If a student is caught copying an assignment from a classmate, you might have the student redo the assignment and average the grade on the second assignment with a zero on the first version.
Figure out why the student is cheating and provide appropriate help. Try to determine what prompted him to cheat, paying particular attention to academic deficiencies, poor study habits, feelings of academic anxiety, and parental pressure to succeed. A student might be motivated to cheat, for example, because of intense pressure to do well in school or a lack of confidence in his ability to succeed. You might determine that he would benefit from such academic support as a review sheet prior to the test, after school tutoring, or parental assistance. If you conclude that the cheating reflects a lack of confidence, find opportunities to praise the student, highlight his accomplishments, and foster a feeling of academic success.
Consider informing the student's parents. Informing parents is especially important if the cheating has happened more than once. In speaking with them, focus more on ways to correct the behavior than on ways to punish the student. If the cheating reflects academic weaknesses or lack of confidence, encourage the parents to provide additional help in completing homework and preparing for classroom tests.
Keep a close watch on a student with a history of cheating. Seat him near your desk and/or away from other students. Wander past his desk occasionally during a test. If necessary, administer his test in a private setting with adult supervision. Allow the student to ask questions if he is confused about test instructions or a particular question or problem.