Avoiding plagiarism can be a tricky topic to teach. It’s important for teachers to make students aware of the consequences and to empower them with the digital literacy tools they need to cite research correctly, but it’s also important that educators don’t come across as punitive, rule-enforcing instructors who have no compassion for the learning process.
In high school, students are developing an awareness and an understanding of ethical research writing. In junior high, many students are still trying to grasp the concept of an internal citation. Obviously, maturity should be considered when addressing plagiarism.
The following instructional practices are the ones I’ve found most beneficial during essay units. They help my students understand what plagiarism is, why it’s important to give proper credit to sources, and how to cite research correctly.
AVOIDING PLAGIARISM: TEACHING APPROACHES
1. BROADEN STUDENTS’ UNDERSTANDING.
Make sure students are aware of various types of plagiarism. Plagiarism is more than copy and paste, which students often misunderstand. I begin the year with a plagiarism mini unit. During this week, we study real-world plagiarism examples, talk about how students can avoid plagiarism, and explore the concept through differentiated learning opportunities. Students need to hear the information verbally, to see examples, to practice with exercises and games, and to correct common mistakes.
2. DIFFERENTIATE PRACTICE.
Use different kinds of practice exercises. I always teach students how to paraphrase, summarize and directly quote research before asking them to write a research paragraph or essay. I’ve used many different practice exercises with success. For example:
- Ask students to color code different elements of a sentence from research (the signal phrase, the quotation, the in-text citation, the punctuation, etc.).
- Give students a scenario (Ex. – You are writing an argumentative research paper about ______. While researching, you come across the following interesting fact, which contains technical jargon. You feel you cannot change the wording, so you decide to directly quote it.). Then, give students the information they need to cite the source (the title of the article, the source information, the page numbers, and etcetera). Guide them through some examples, let them work in partners, and then have them try it on their own.
- Provide students with an already-written paragraph, and ask them to read an article and plug in paraphrased and directly quoted information to strengthen the content.
3. USE MODELS.
Use samples to bring awareness. You probably already provide students with examples of the type of essay you are asking them to write. Make sure one of your examples is missing important citations, quotation marks, or a Works Cited page. After they read this example, ask students, “What grade do you think this paper is worth?” or “Is this student proficient with the standard?” If the example is well-written with the exception of the missing citations, students will probably suggest the student has earned an A or a Proficient in a standards grading system. When you tell them the individual would actually not earn credit for omitting citations or a Works Cited page, they will begin to realize the implications for inattention.
4. GIVE FEEDBACK ON THE SPOT.
Avoiding plagiarism is hard work. Give feedback constantly in different formats. While students are in the midst of writing an essay, constantly circulate the room, look over shoulders, conference with them, or stalk their documents on Google Drive. While it’s time-consuming in the moment, this diligence saves time in the long run by reducing the number of plagiarism instances you have to address on the final draft and parents or administrators you need to contact. Get your hover game on point.
5. BE PROACTIVE.
Require your students to complete their Works Cited page during pre-writing and drafting as they find each source so they don’t forget where they found it. Keep the tab open like a brain dump! It’s easier to delete a source students didn’t cite than to later try to find one they forgot to record. This will also help them to see continuity between Works Cited entries and internal citations.
6. HOLD STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE.
Ask students to be responsible for correcting their own citation errors through revision activities. Before collecting a rough or final draft of an essay that you plan to grade, allow students to complete stoplight plagiarism stations. If we teach students about plagiarism and provide ample practice opportunities and reminders throughout the unit, we can fully expect them to demonstrate mastery at the end of the essay. Station activities put students in the driver’s seat. If they care, they will ask questions, revise, and edit their work so that it is better as a result of the activities.
These tips will help with any student…but struggling writers? They need more.
PLAGIARISM AND STRUGGLING WRITERS: 4 MORE TIPS
Avoiding plagiarism feels different for some of my students. Struggling writers do not need any additional stress added to their plates. When teaching them how to incorporate research into an essay, their brains are on overload. It’s all they can do to process how they should be writing a coherent sentence. Asking them to analyze that research and also cite it correctly is a huge obstacle. Here are some tips for helping scaffold research writing for struggling students:
1. BE SPECIFIC.
When teaching struggling writers about avoiding plagiarism, be specific about how much research students should include. I tell my freshmen they need three citations per paragraph. Two should be paraphrased facts, and one should be a direct quote. These particular guidelines might seem rigid, but anxious writers appreciate the structure, and eliminating the guessing game puts them at ease.
2. GIVE FREQUENT FEEDBACK.
As students develop the shell of their essays, require them to seek feedback on individual sections of their prewriting in the form of an outline or a graphic organizer. This takes time, but it’s less frustrating for students to get feedback on their topic sentence promptly than it is for them to write out the ideas for an entire paragraph – which might take them an hour – only to find out they need to change most of it. Start with the thesis. Next, tackle the topic sentence and three main points from research for the first body paragraph. Before students move on to the next step, they need to confirm their ideas are cohesive and that the research is cited properly.
3. CONFERENCE IMMEDIATELY.
We live in a primarily digital world, but if possible, ask students to print out their sources. Printing sources allows students to slow down and process what they are taking and including in their essay. It’s just so easy to copy and past from one tab to another.
If printing isn’t possible, at least make sure students can open the sources up while you talk. While their writing thought process is still fresh in their minds, guide them through important revisions. Many struggling writers forget in-text citations, omit signal phrases for attribution, and leave out punctuation for direct quotes. Some of them use the synonym replacement approach to paraphrasing. Conferencing with students as frequently as possible allows you to intervene before students write an entire essay in this manner, further reinforcing their lack of understanding.
4. PROVIDE CLASS WORK TIME.
Don’t expect students to write the essay at home. I only ask my struggling writers to write during our class period. They need help, and asking them to work independently is too frustrating for them. Giving them class time provides a safe and productive environment in which I can spend time working with each student.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that students are learning. If a student doesn’t use class time wisely, procrastinates on writing the rough and final draft, or doesn’t ask me any questions or take my feedback throughout the writing process, that’s lack of effort. In those instances, the student earns a failing or incomplete grade, especially if parents have been contacted and support has been provided throughout the process. Yet, most students will make concerted efforts to cite their sources correctly after they realize the magnitude of the issue. In our twenty-first century society where intellectual theft and piracy have become the norm, convincing students that plagiarism is unethical is the first step toward solving the problem.
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