Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dealing with Plagiarism

The word "plagiarism" is a very serious word.  It is often used to instill fear in someone, and while it is definitely a concept that can reap some devastating consequences, I propose that if our children were educated about what it is and why it happens, those who serve our children in the educational arena would find some relief in their efforts to "catch" kids engaged in the act.  In the book Plagiarism, by Barry Gilmore, the author indicates that many students think plagiarism is only "copying an entire essay and handing it in as one's own."  The term, however, refers to the act done when a person, adult or student, "appropriates any material---ideas, writings, images, or any portion of those--- and claiming to be the original creator" (Plagiarism, p. 2). 

Plagiarism is easier now, more than ever, to commit because of the access to technology and the ignorance of how to use it in our educational ventures.  Throughout history, plagiarism has been an issue.  People, from Helen Keller to Joe Biden, have been accused and taken to task for allegedly taking credit for the originality of someone else's work.  As easy as it is to commit, today, it is not as clear cut when determining if someone has plagiarized. To toss words, like "academic integrity" into a student handbook and not take great pains to help all people understand the nuances associated with those words could be considered a practice that is educational unsound.  After all, to expect our children to simply not cheat seems naive.  We teach our children to take advantage of all the available resources to help them be successful in school and in professional careers.  It is especially critical that we, then, help guide them in their "digital literacy" and tie this into discussions about academic integrity and professionalism.

In order to help our children understand that plagiarism is a mistake, that can result in various consequences, we must, as parents and teachers, help them understand what it is, why it is not acceptable, and how to not put oneself in a position where it seems like the only option.  It is my strong belief that cheating-free classrooms are the direct result of relationships between teacher and students that are personal and transparent. 

The role of parents is of particular importance in reducing the incidents of plagiarism.  Parents know how high the stakes are of securing money for college, through scholarship searches, and even the need for high grades in high school.  Parents who might never condone cheating, when backed into a corner, may vehemently defend a child against the possibility of a failing grade.  Schools must invite parents into the educational experience as partners.  A course syllabus warning parents about the penalty of plagiarism is not enough.  Parents need to expect that schools will do the following in order to support their efforts to support their children:

1.  Provide, at back to school nights or conferences, handouts or websites that demonstrate the problems some students have with cutting and pasting, citations, and paraphrasing.
2.  Demonstrate, at an evening activity as noted in #1, for parents proper and improper Internet sources, search techniques, and attribution.
3.  Give parents some pointers for checking the work of their own children.
4.  Make sure the respective classroom policy on cheating aligns with the district policy so parents see a consistency in efforts to support students.
5.  Schools will inform the parents of what  the communication chain is when dealing with suspected cases of plagiarism.  There is nothing to be gained, but distrust and hard feelings, when a case is dealt with so quickly that it does not allow the student a chance to explain what his/her case is to the teacher or administrator.

These are just a handful of ways partnerships can be formed between schools and parents in efforts to establish a climate based on the education of students rather than the punishment of them.

Source Cited:
Gilmore, Barry.  Plagiarism.  Heinemann Publishing. New Hampshire. 2008.

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