Plagiarism in the Classroom Prevention rather than Detection

Have you considered that teachers and grading practices could actually be responsible for enabling students to plagiarize without knowing it. Plagiarism is wrong, immoral, illegal, but try explaining that to a student who is obssessed with achieving that high grade. Students do not plagiarize to purposely harm the person whose ideas they steal; they do it because they believe it is the easiest way to achieve an “A.” One could even argue the root of plagiarism is our over emphasis on grades; students think they have to be perfect. Teachers can help prevent plagiarism by assigning creative and authentic assignments, allowing students to write about things they are interested in, and work to help students to become confident writers.

In the traditional classroom generic reports, or essays are assigned and students are given time to complete the assignments in class or at home. Once that due date arrives teachers collect papers, make all the corrections for the students, and hand them back. Is this really the best way to teach writing? I think planning assignments that are more creative, and focused can help reduce plagiarism. Ask a student to do a report on Thomas Jefferson and he will bring you back a page right out of wikipedia. However, ask a student to imagine that you are Thomas Jefferson, write a series of diary entries he would have written that portray his thoughts and ideas during the drafting of the Declaration of Independance. I guarantee you can google as mush as you want, and it would be difficult to plagiarize that assignment.

We must allow students to write about things they are interested in, or at the very least, about interesting things. Give students an open-ended writing assignment where they can incorperate things that they know about and they can become the experts; they will have no need to plagiarize. Students will not only be more willing to share their ideas, but they may actually find that they enjoy it. Whatever genre of writing or objective you are teaching, find a way to give students a choice. There is nothing more monotonous then grading hundreds of papers on the same topic anways. Do yourself a favor, and empower students by allowing them to choose what they write about.

Of course students should be held responsible for following school rules, and we cannot place all the blame on teachers; however, I think with a little planning and forethought we can take a proactive approach to eliminating plagiarism. Save all of the sanctimonious lectures of the morality of stealing ideas, because the students don’t care; they just want an “A.” Let your students know it is okay to make mistakes when they write and that it is actually part of the process. Stop, making corrections for your students, and handing them papers covered in red marks, thinking that it will improve their writing. Start giveing students specific goals in what you expect, and make descriptive comments on their papers concerning those goals only. Ignore the other mistakes, because that is not what you are teaching! Let’s spend less time skimming the Internet to “catch” plagiarists and more time creating confident writers and students may feel like they can actually do a writing assignment without plagiarizing.

Yes, plagiarism is wrong! But are the students are the only ones to blame?