Enabling Plagiarism

Plagiarism(noun) – an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.

I have been reflecting on the research process for my middle school students since the start of the school year and how it has evolved since doing my undergraduate degree almost twenty years ago. After Christmas break, my students will be conducting their own research projects and I always fear that I will have some students plagiarize the research they will be doing. A fear I am sure other educators have as well. Yes, it’s true, plagiarism is usually one of the very first items that are addressed in the research process. Students please document your resources!

It seems no matter what steps we take educators are always going to have a few students who just don’t want to take on the responsibility of completing the research process and will spend more time to go out and grab someone else’s work to claim as their own. Furthermore, students still have difficulty understanding that Google is not the source where they go their information. I think I have said this at least a dozen times this year.

Since the beginning of the year, when I slowly introduce my students to researching; I start by writing on the whiteboard one simple statement:

RESEARCH = READING

I don’t want my students having any misconceptions about the research process. I want them to know up front that researching can be difficult and time consuming. It takes perseverance and dedication to the topic or subject they are researching. To tell my students researching is easy would be misleading and push them more in the direction of “copy and paste”.

Which leads me to the question, are students being pushed more and more to plagiarize their work? I am not necessarily referring to teachers. Students have millions, perhaps billions of pages of internet resources to go through. You add checking the validity of the information and students feel overwhelmed. Today’s students want information given to them in quick and short bursts because that is how they receive most of their information today. Asking students to sit down and read informational text for hours is becoming more and more challenging. With the way students are receiving information today, a research article that is five pages could be difficult for them to process and reflect upon for their research. Students aren’t just suppose to read, they are supposed to think about what is being said. Multiply it by six to twelve resources that are needed and I feel students are going to start thinking about what they can do to take the easy way out.

By no means am I condoning plagiarism or saying that teachers are to blame. I am simply wondering if students are pushed or feel more compelled to take the chance of using someone else’s ideas because they are overwhelmed with the research process that worked twenty-five  years ago.  I think it is definitely worthy of thinking about more and perhaps reading professional text such as Research Writing Rewired: Lessons that Ground Students’ Digital Writing by my colleagues Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks. Also, Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts with Fun by Barry Lane is a great professional read.

I am open to any comments on this topic. I do feel it is worthy of a professional conversation. Happy Holidays!

 


I got My Middle Schoolers to Like Reading and Lived to Tell About it!

It’s almost May, we are all wrapping up the end of the school year and for some of us, we are already dreaming about the summer days on the beach with a margarita in hand. For this teacher, I am getting increasingly sad as the days go by.

This year has been by far my most successful year when it has come to reading and writing. I have more students reading on their own. Furthermore, I see them having conversations about books without me prompting them. I am not a magician, but boy do I have a lot of students reading on their own this year and they are always wanting to talk about books. Though I am going to share insights into my classroom and some of the ideas I use in my classroom, it may not work for all.

1. Oral read to your middle school students. The idea was introduced to me this past fall during a professional development session I attended on Twitter called #titletalk. Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp co-lead the PD on the last Sunday of each month. I chose to read The Hunger Games to my students and I had countless students check out my copies of the 2nd and 3rd book, not to mention I had countless students order the books through Scholastic. They could not get enough and we had multiple conversations about the books. I even witnessed students talking about it at lunch.

2. Bring in authors. As my 7th graders finished up the myth and legends unit, I was able to bring in a Michigan author by the name of Frank Holes Jr. He talked to the students about the dogman myth and legend that exist here in Michigan and how he was inspired as a writer. It gave the students a unique opportunity to ask an author why he writes. Using a Michigan author helped keep costs down for my school. If costs are a concern, consult your student council leader for help, your librarian, and your principal. Boxtops for Education could potentially help too. I strongly believe this also showed my students that writers are real people instead of individuals who are untouchable.

3. Visit your school library. Early on I coordinated with my librarian for my middle school students to visit the library every two weeks. As the school year progressed, we have not visited it as often, but I still have students who request to go to the library to check out books. In addition, my librarian has done an excellent job of asking staff members, especially the language arts teachers, to give her book suggestions. She has taken our suggestions and put more books on the shelves for the students.

4. Read with your students. Every Monday we have designated time for our students to do silent reading and I make it a point to read with them. As teachers, we can’t preach to our students, especially middle schoolers, to read and not model it ourselves.

I could list a ton of other strategies for teachers to use. In addition to the four strategies I have listed, I am a firm believer in giving enough choices to both boys and girls in your classroom to be successful. More importantly, having a lot of choices when it comes to books is detrimental to their success.

Cheers!