In this week's Voice of Experience essay, educator Kathleen Modenbach reflects on changes she has seen in students' attitudes toward cheating and the ounce-of-prevention strategies she uses to curb it.
About five years ago, two of my English IV seniors handed in almost identical essays. I gave each of them a zero. Later, one of the students came to me, took full blame, and asked that the other student be spared. He admitted copying the paper without the other student's knowledge.
Looking back, I think of that as a big victory. You see, there was an overall sense of respect and responsibility among the students I had then. But things seem to be changing
Though I've dealt with few cheaters in my career, I've recently heard students casually talk about cheating. Apparently, it doesn't matter to many students today. In a 2001 Rutgers University survey of 4500 high school students in 25 schools across the country, 97 percent admitted to cheating at least once in high school.
Why the change in students' attitudes toward cheating? Are they under that much pressure to earn good grades? Many students and their parents seem to value grades more than knowledge. Parents frequently blame teachers and the system if their children are caught cheating. Even many teachers look the other way. They might fear being labeled as poor teachers if word gets out that their students cheat; or they might not want to face the pressure of punishing cheating students and confronting their parents.
As I said before, I've had few instances of cheating during the past 30 years. One year, one of my seniors used a Web site that sells research papers as one of the eight required references on a major research project. Though I found no evidence he used information from that Web site, I deducted points because he had only seven valid references.
Every word of another senior's research paper was copied from the Internet. The student was given a zero, the parents were called, and the school took disciplinary action.
In my mind, the key to the fact that I have had so few problems with cheating is prevention. My prevention measures include the following:
Keeping count. I distribute A and B versions of tests. Students who sit beside each other take different versions of the test. I also count out tests and answer documents for each row of students to make sure that extra copies aren't taken from the room.
Checking the machine. On tests that are machine corrected, I check for identical incorrect answers on answer documents, especially if two students make the same grade.
Checking possessions. Even though cell phones aren't allowed in our school, students in other schools have used their phones' text-message capabilities to transmit answers during tests. Making sure that book bags and purses are closed and out of the way before the test begins can prevent this.
Comparing samples. I keep student writing samples to compare to future essays in the event I suspect someone is cheating. A quick comparison can usually identify whether a recent writing sample is too much improved to be believable.
Internet verification. Suspicious word clusters on research papers can be checked on the Internet for plagiarism. If some clusters seem a little "too professional," simply insert that text (in quotation marks) into Google or another search engine and see what comes up. If the words that surround that cluster match text that the search engine produces, you might have nabbed a cheater.
The motivation of the zero. If cheating occurs, my students know in advance that I will give out zeros and call parents. I also report cheating to the school administration. The word gets around. Nothing teaches better than example.
On a positive note, a parent recently called to inform me that his son was downloading an excessive amount of information on the home computer. He was worried about plagiarism and wanted to let me know so that I could check his son's paper carefully. You see, the parent wanted his child to do the paper correctly so that he would be better prepared for college. I determined the student wasn't cheating -- but what a refreshing change to find a parent who was more concerned with learning than with grades.
Cheating in the Classroom: How to Prevent It (and How to Handle It If It Happens)
Classroom management expert Howard Seeman says if cheaters get away with cheating -- and get higher grades because they cheat -- it sends a de-motivating message to the hard-working students in your classroom. Seeman offers easy-to-apply advice for preventing cheating plus tips on dealing with cheating if it does happen.
What Can We Do to Curb Student Cheating?
A 1998 national survey found that four out of five top students admitted cheating at some time or other. In another nationwide study, nine out of ten high school teachers acknowledged that cheating is a problem in their school. Is cheating a problem in your school? Has the Internet added a new dimension to the problem? Education World explores the problem of cheating. Included: Ways teachers can combat cheating.
Article by Kathleen Modenbach
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