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  • Writer's pictureScott Cameron

How to Avoid Plagiarism and Cheating: 7 Tricks

Updated: Jan 16

When students plagiarize, teachers get upset for a number of different reasons. First and foremost, it’s dishonest. It feels personal, like a deliberate attack not just on the class, but on the person. It feels like, I don’t care about this, or you. It’s easy to forget why a student might cheat, beyond just gaining an unfair advantage. They might face pressure to succeed from their parents and community, they might not understand the material, or perhaps they had some unexpected family trip or other responsibility get in the way of their work. They might be overwhelmed by due dates and projects, and just couldn’t keep track of it all. They could have been sick, or sleep deprived. They may have fallen behind, not just in your class but in other classes, and felt that catching up would take too much effort and time. Their friend might have pressured them into giving them the work, and they might not have friends. Teachers encourage collaboration between students, so for some assignments, when and how to work with other students might not be clear. And yes, they probably got lazy.

It’s highly likely that every teacher will encounter a student that cheats or plagiarizes, so here are a few ways to avoid and deal with cheating and plagiarism:

1. Talk about the value of creativity and independent thinking early in the year

When I first describe my note-taking assignments and classwork to my students, I try to emphasize that it’s about learning how to think. Simply writing down what someone else says in a lecture or conversation is not enough. It’s all about making sense of it and organizing it in a way that gives birth to its meaning. A student should listen, think, and then write. These notes then become the foundation for what they will study, and what they will express on paper or out loud. Students learn about the world as it is, and then imagine what’s next.

2. Give students enough time

Students shouldn’t be rushed through the material they need to learn. They should be able to slowly digest the words, equations, historical events, and formulas. We don’t watch a movie at twice the speed just to get the gist of what happened. We’re not interested in the grade or how well we comprehended things, we just want to interpret what we see. And just because five students can complete the work by the due date, doesn’t mean they all can. It’s important to cater to all of our students, and not just a small minority. It’s not easy, but there is a timeline that works for everyone. Sometimes, it’s as easy as asking how much time they need or adjusting when things don’t go as planned.

3.. Give students the opportunity in class to gather evidence and collaborate

If a student has a bunch of pages of notes before they take a test or write an essay, they will be confident and ready to perform, because they’ve done the necessary intellectual legwork required for success. If teachers give students time in class to complete the work, there’s no excuse. But there are very real excuses if teachers send the work home. Students leave school and play sports, go to extracurricular activities, and they have work to complete in other classes. They have to walk the dog or perhaps take care of younger siblings before their parents get home from work. They might have to make their own dinner, healthy or not. They may face distractions that come from being in a big family in a small home, from parents that fight, or siblings that bully them, they may have to work a job to help their family make ends meet, they could be battling depression or anxiety, or they might not have a quiet space to work or have to work in their bedroom, which could make them feel sleepy and tired. A teacher’s homework competes against the powerhouses of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and/or Candy Crush. Or maybe they are old school, and have long, meaningful conversations about the scheme of things over the phone with their friends. I think I learned the most in my childhood from talking for hours on the phone with my friends. I digress, but dare I say, students should learn in school and not at home.

4. Ask students to create original prompts

Students might be tempted to plagiarize or cheat because they know that every other student in their class has to answer the same question. If students work with their teachers to create their own questions, they will feel like no one else has the answer, and that it’s up to them to solve the puzzle. Of course, there’s value to asking all students one question, and expecting a response by the end of the class using nothing but some paper and a pencil. That single question should be big enough so that everyone can answer it, but challenging enough for the students that want to go above and beyond.

5. Work with students to plan ideas

Once students pick their own topic, teachers can incrementally work with students to develop a plan of action that will put them on the path to success. It’s impossible to plagiarize a conversation, and a good exchange of ideas reduces the desire to look for good ideas elsewhere on the internet.

6. Use (or don’t use) online tools

A live Google document allows teachers to monitor the revision history of any student and will check one student’s work against a database of online websites and student work. But there’s always a way around whatever method we think up to catch plagiarizers. I was surprised to learn a few years ago that doesn’t include SparkNotes in its plagiarism check. Online plagiarism checks feel like a preemptive gotcha: before you even submit, I already think you’re going to cheat, and I’m ready to play your game. I go back and forth with the tool because it’s easier to say: this machine said you cheated, not me.

7. Don’t overreact to cheating, but have consequences

It’s really hard not to care when someone cheats in my class. Part of me feels like they did something wrong, and part of me feels like I did something wrong. It’s worth the conversation, especially if the student genuinely wants to explain what happened. Regardless, teachers have to prioritize fairness, which ultimately means there should be some kind of consequence for cheating and plagiarism, especially for repeat offenders. In the end, people are allowed to make mistakes, especially children.

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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