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!

 


So Much to do, so Little Time

The first week of school is over and it has gone by extremely fast.  Friday was nothing but a blur.  I am very grateful we decided to change our homebase from 40 minutes each day to 18 minutes every other day.  This has allowed us to add approximately 3-4 minutes to our core classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  With three sections of 7th and 8th grade I still feel, however, I need more time in each of my hours.  I now have about 53 minutes for each class.

After our evacuation drill and pictures causing my 3rd hour 7th grade class to get behind and the unscheduled shutdown of the Schoology website causing my 5th hour 8th grade class to fall behind, Friday was a bit of a catch up day. To be honest, it allowed me to catch my breath.  Remember, as wonderful as it is to integrate mobile devices and digital tools into your classroom, it is important to stand back and observe what is happening with your students, good or bad, and to make sure the digital tool you are using is enhancing your lesson, unit, or classroom the way you want it.  Trying to do too much will not only overwhelm students, but it will overwhelm you. As of Friday, the only major set-back I dealt with were the 7th and 8th graders who could not log-in to a laptop because the server or the computer was not accepting their username and password.  The problem should be resolved next week.

On Friday, students finished up 6 word memoirs for both 7th and 8th grade. 8th graders moved forward and we had very good discussions about “The Osage Orange Tree” by William Stafford. The students were assigned to read the short story for homework and in addition, they were asked to do some very minor research about what an Osage Orange is and if the orange itself or the tree has any valuable use. Prior to the students leaving class Thursday with their homework we discussed the different ways they could quickly access the answers to my questions.  Besides accessing the internet, the students said they could find information from:

  • Ask teacher (besides me), parent, relative, etc.
  • Ask a neighbor
  • Go to the school library or local library really quick
  • Look in a school science book

Needless to say I was impressed with their responses and I was even more impressed with their answers when they came back on Friday.  They even taught me a few things that I didn’t know. Yes, my students did some research during a narrative unit.  When my 8th graders started class on Friday I wanted to do a quick check on whether they did their reading.  So, I had the students post 3 questions on Celly.  Students who did not have a cell phone wrote in their journals or could post to Schoology.  With the students having plenty of choices on how to complete the task, they went to work.  After they were finished composing their questions I asked them to try to respond to two of their classmates.  In some groups they had to respond to three students.  The students did an excellent job of responding to each other and we had a very vibrant discussion at the conclusion of class.  Students were then assigned vocabulary homework and I demonstrated to them the use of dictionary.com and showed them the app you can download on an Ipad or smart phone.  Overall, it was a very productive day.

I left my 7th and 8th grade with a few nuggets of information before each of them left for their next class.  I told them we would be going at a very quick pace.  However, I was not going to neglect the fact they needed to know the curriculum presented and taught to them.  I asked them to come and talk to me if at anytime they felt they were drowning and couldn’t tread water anymore.  I think I may see a few students stopping in after school.

Next week we look grammar, This I believe essays, and twitter memoirs.

Below are the CCSS I used on Friday.  Mostly with my 8th graders.

  1. RL.8.2 –  Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  2. RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
  3. W.8.8 – Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (partially).

 

Cheers!


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!