Thursday, July 30, 2015

Creating an Environment That Discourages Plagiarism

Image Credit: Shelley Shott, Intel Free Press / CC BY 2.0
Why do students plagiarize? Most of the time it's probably due to two reasons: they don't know how to properly cite their sources or they don't know what to write.

In my English Language Arts class, my students are constantly writing. It may be blog posts, essays, or speeches. In previous years I've never had access to Turnitin to check for plagiarism, and even though my district has decided to subscribe to this service next semester, I don't plan to change my approach to teaching writing. This is because I prefer to be proactive, rather than reactive. So how do I know that my students are truly the authors of the work they call their own?

First, my students start and complete most of their writing in class. When given time to write, there is less inclination to cheat.

Second, I scaffold them throughout the writing process. If it's an essay, we brainstorm the ideas in class, and we crowdsource the evidence they need to support their opinions. I have students post their thesis statements on Schoology's discussion platform or using the "Create Question" feature in Google Classroom. Then, my students agree or disagree (respectfully, of course) by either supporting or refuting the posted thesis statement with evidence from the text. This natural dialogue helps them practice their arguments before they even start to plan the essay.

Third, my students brainstorm their essay on a mindmap. As they work, I confer with each one of them and discuss where they are going with their ideas. We use Google Slides or an essay planner on Google Docs to map out their essay. Though I could simply insert comments, I prefer to talk to them face-to-face. They appreciate the personalized attention, and I always get an appreciative "thank you" at the end of our conversations. If I run out of time in class, then I will resort to written comments.

Next, students write their essays on a Google Doc, using the information from their mindmaps or essay planner. As they write, I set up opportunities for students to give each other feedback. I instruct them on which specific criteria to focus on and how to give each other formative feedback. As they work on this, I also monitor their essays, jumping in as necessary to provide even more feedback.

After this process, students revise their essays based on comments they've received. When this draft is finished, I give them a self-assessment to complete. Then, they have the opportunity to revise their essay once more before turning it in. For each step of their writing process, I provide scaffolds and feedback for their writing.

After all the planning, drafting, and conferring in class, there is no need to plagiarize. From this point on, it'll take more work for students to look for someone else's work to copy.

If we equip our students with the skills they need, give them the time to write, provide them with our guidance, and cultivate the support of their peers, there is less incentive to plagiarize. However, I didn't take this approach to teaching writing because of plagiarism. I use this method because I believe in scaffolding and giving my students the tools they need to succeed. The decline of plagiarism is just a byproduct.