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!

 


Struggling with Research at the Middle School Level

When my students return from spring break next week they will be embarking on the research portion of the year. The past few weeks I have really struggled with the term “research paper”. Though I see the purpose of doing a research paper, I am not sure having my students turn in a 4-5 page “research paper” is best practice. To be more clear, I am thinking about my 7th grade classes.

My 8th graders, on the other hand, do a multi-genre research project which I absolutely love and I love their enthusiasm about the project. It also falls under the CCSS because one of the Common Core Standards is doing a “research project”. Please see my multi-genre project on Digital Is. The easy solution would be for my 7th graders to do the multi-genre project as well, but with different expectations. The reason I am not considering this option is because I do not want to grade over 110 projects that could include up to 6 pieces of writing. I wouldn’t sleep this spring if I decided to take this route.

Regardless of what direction I go in, I know that I am going to have an absorbant amount of paperwork and I am fine with knowing this, but having 5 classes doing a multi-genre research project could have the potential of me grading over 500 pieces of writing. WOW! What I really struggle with is knowing if I am going to reach students. In my district, if I don’t do some sort of research with my students, they will not see it again until 11th grade. Besides, I know that I have too. And it would seem with the CCSS, my colleagues at the high school level would have to as well. Why do we do a research paper anyways? I ofter wonder how dumb of a question that really is or do others have this thought too.

At our last department meeting I asked what is the value of a research paper and we had a really great conversation about how it isn’t the paper itself that is important for the students, but rather it is the process that the students go through. For example, students should know how to research effectively, they should know how to site sources and give credit where credit is due, and they need to be able to clearly convey what they learned from that research. So, my question is can I get students to show this without it being a 4-5 page “research paper”? Or is it in the best interest of the students to change my attack on this particular genre of writing. I am a huge advocate for technology being used in the classroom. Google Docs would be a start in the right direction. In addition, I am considering letting the students use cell phones to help with their research. I will explain what my thinking is on that in a later blog post.

So, I wonder, what are other middle school teachers doing in the realm of the research? What are others doing in their classroom? Are there other teachers out there that feel the same as I do? I would love to hear feedback and suggestions. More to come…

Cheers!