A sixth-grader, playing FINAL FANTASY on his Xbox 360, knows it’s unfair if his best friend cheats. An eighth-grade girl feels violated if her younger sister steals her password and broadcasts personal information on Facebook. Yet, when it comes to cutting and pasting someone else’s words from the Internet, and using those words as their own, students don’t give it a second thought. In today’s viral environment, students fail to understand why lifting a paragraph—or an entire paper—is such a big deal. And the really bad news is: It’s not just happening in college and high school anymore.
“We have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t have an author,” says Teresa Fishman, the director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, South Carolina. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”
Plagiarism is nothing new. Dating from 1621, the Latin word “plagiarus” means “kidnapper, seducer, or plunderer.” In a sense, a student who plagiarizes is kidnapping the words and ideas of another. Experts cite various reasons why young students cheat, among them—cheating is easy; chances are they’ll never get caught; if they’re caught, the punishment is not severe. Most agree that plagiarism is a problem that won’t go away, but that doesn’t mean that teachers and schools aren’t fighting back.
White Station Middle School in Memphis, Tennessee, has developed a Plagiarism/Cheating Policy
that is used school wide. In simple terms, the document explains plagiarism as: Directly copying, paraphrasing without proper citation, using and failing to properly credit, recycling previously submitted work, and using artwork or pictures without proper citation.
The policy also states the consequences of plagiarism, which range from a meeting with the principal, guidance counselor, and parents to a 1-3 day home suspension and being barred from honor societies. Students and parents must not only read and sign individual “honor” statements, each must hand write the policy on page two of the document.
In 2009, a middle school technology class in Julian Charter School, in Southern California, created PowerPoint presentations on plagiarism using royalty-free graphics. Students added voiceover to their projects and uploaded them to the Web using Voicethread software. Students participating in the project
also satisfied their National Educational Technology Standards.
The number of middle schools using digital plagiarism detectors, such as Turnitin
, is on the rise. But budget-strapped school districts and overburdened teachers can ill afford such luxury. But as a teacher, there are things you can do:
- Don’t assume students understand what plagiarism is. Consider including a unit on plagiarism in your English/language arts class.
- Develop a plagiarism policy and honor code with student input. Establish clear guidelines and consequences.
- Go on the offensive. If you suspect a student of plagiarism, confront him or her. Teacher ambivalence is one reason why students cheat. “Why do the work if there’s a good chance I’ll never get caught?”
- Use search engines to check suspicious passages in a student’s work. Let students know upfront that you will be “sampling” their work.
- Know your students’ voices. If a marginal student suddenly waxes poetic in his or her book report, don’t let it go unchallenged.
From bootleg videos to illegal music download, students see the lines of ethics and honesty blur like those of a pencil with a pink eraser. The more we as educators create a climate of integrity, the better learners our students will be.
[NOTE: For a kid-friendly article on plagiarism, including an “An Anti-Plagiarism Checklist,” visit kidshealth.org
.] Michelle Y. Green is an award-winning children’s book author and an adjunct professor of English at Prince George’s Community College, Largo, Maryland.
© 2011 Michelle Y. Green. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. THOR and the Thesis Statement