||This is part two in a two-part series.
Teaching Strategies to Help Students Resist Plagiarism
You can do several simple things to engage students and create a classroom environment that will encourage your students to value intellectual honesty. Here's a list of strategies that have worked for me; perhaps they will also work for you. Not all of these will be appropriate for every teacher or every classroom, but I do hope that they inspire you to think about your own teaching practices and to try out new approaches.
Reinforce the basic skills of using evidence.
No matter what rhetoric or handbook you choose for your classroom, that text will most likely address summary, paraphrase, quotation, and documentation. Students who understand these skills well will be less likely to plagiarize.
Demonstrate the critical reading process.
Those of us at the college level often assume that students reach us already knowing how to read and take notes, but that is often not the case. Taking a few moments at the beginning of the first few days of class to read through an essay or speech (something short, such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, works well) to teach a good note-taking procedure (or several different -- but good -- procedures) will pay dividends in the long run. I've found that it doesn't make sense to restrict students to only one way of note taking (or outlining or brainstorming, for that matter); students are all wired differently.
Write along with your students.
"I don't have time!!"
"I have other, more important things to do!"
"I already know how to write -- THEY need to learn, not me!"
Can you tell that I've heard objections to this concept before? But just consider this: if you run a writing workshop in which your students are writing at least one-third of each class meeting (sometimes more?), then you, too, have 15 or 20 or 30 minutes to write. Certainly, you could spend that time walking around looking over students' shoulders, but I promise you that if you write with them at least one class out of three and then talk with them about your process, you'll discover how effective a teaching tool it is. One of my colleagues has been using this technique more than 30 years; I've observed her many times in the classroom, and of all the "tricks" in her teaching bag, this one seems to work the best. And, if you're writing with them, you'll understand more immediately what the problems with your assignment happen to be. You may then be able to make some in-progress revisions.
Confine students' formal writing to the classroom.
Though this approach is obviously not for all teachers, I instituted this in my classroom several years ago, and it forced me into a full-fledged writing workshop. My students work on their formal writing assignments only in the classroom; they read, conduct research, and journal outside of class. They even play with various elements of a given assignment outside of class -- multiple types of introductions or conclusions, a variety of paragraph structures, sentence exercises -- but the actual writing takes place in the classroom alone. This has allowed me to find out very early in the semester who needs what type of help. Before, I seldom discovered students' systemic writing problems until the midterm -- when they wrote in response to a timed prompt -- because they were receiving so much outside assistance from friends in dorms, parents, etc. Now, I find that students tend to develop a better sense of themselves as writers, and I am more confident that the writing I see from them is a result of their own effort.
Establish a supportive relationship with your students.
This can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. You're automatically up against the "Us versus Them" phenomenon. Still, I've found it best to demonstrate early on that I am interested in them as individuals and use the first two or three class periods for icebreaker activities that include getting to know where they're from, what they like to read, what they do for fun -- and sharing that same information about myself. Then, what we learn about each other becomes part of the classroom environment over the course of the semester; we become a community. Also, writing along with them seems to work as a means of demonstrating that I am interested in them and in their ultimate success.
Be tough but fair.
This is as much a comment about grading as it is about discipline: set standards that are high but achievable, then hold every student to those standards, regardless of your personal feelings about individuals.
Grading: Now that all of a student's work can be submitted word-processed, I've found that blind grading -- using only student identification numbers, for instance -- allows teachers to grade more fairly. We grade each paper on its own merit without attaching a personality to it, and we don't match student numbers with names until after grading the papers we've received. This process lessens the possibility of giving a student an undeserved (either good or bad) grade.
Discipline: Whatever standards you set for your classroom should be standards you're willing to enforce no matter how you feel about a particular student. If, for instance, your policy is that papers submitted late receive one letter grade cut, and Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Annoying both turn in their papers late, then be sure that you apply that letter grade cut fairly. Don't tinker with your blind grading system (if you have one) to ensure that Mr. W. really doesn't lose any points or that Mr. A. loses more than he should.
Give assignments that have meaning for students.
If you don't know what's meaningful to your students, ask. Or, at least, give them options that fit your own comfort zone. Here's an idea that I've used the past several years that works well: During the summer, I collect articles on subjects that interest me and that I wouldn't mind reading a series of essays on. I have on my desk today, for instance, articles on SARS, the raw food trend, literature in high school, Harry Potter, Japanese Emperor Meiji, the literature GRE, "whirling disease" in Montana, the world's funniest jokes, gender and leadership, applying to college, and so on. Then, during the first days of the semester, I tell students that each of them will be writing a series of essays on one of the subjects in my article collection. I will have, by the time classes begin, at least twice as many subjects as I have students, so that students will be able to choose freely and find what truly interests them. They use the articles I provide as a starting point for their semester-long studies that begin with narrative essays and end with proposal arguments or editorials based on what they've learned along the way. I offer an "opt-out" at midterm each year; last year, of 36 students, only two chose to switch subjects, and one of them was sorry he changed.
Respond promptly and substantively to student writing.
This is hard to do, especially for high school teachers who have far too many students to teach. However, we all know that students don't improve if they don't get feedback early enough to influence their process for the next assignment. If time is short, read papers through only once and give students holistic reads; tell them what worked well, what worked less well, and add a brief note on what they can do to improve before handing in the next paper. If time is abundant, read papers carefully, mark and comment on the good and the not-so-good; be more specific about what they need to do to improve; even demonstrate the sort of writing you have in mind. (Here's another place where your own writing may come into play: rather than revise the student's work and take away ownership, demonstrate the techniques you suggest on your own text.)
No matter what, return papers to students in time for them to read, respond to, and act on your comments.
Give students an opportunity to respond to your evaluation.
Sometimes I simply force the issue by withholding grades:
"In order to get your grade, you need to respond to my comments -- both my oral and written comments -- in a paragraph addressing the work you've done here and setting up a plan for improvement in the next essay."
Sometimes I give them options:
"You've written three essays so far this semester. Which was the most fun/least fun to write? Why?"
I've discovered that whatever I do to get them to look at and to take seriously my comments about their writing helps them.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense or U.S. Government.
Janice Edgerson Hudley has taught Freshman Composition at West Point for 10 years and has directed that program for the last 5 years. She also teaches upper-level electives, including courses on the Harlem Renaissance, the comic novel, British and American literature, Native American novels, and African American novels. She has served as an AP Reader, Table Leader, and Question Leader, and is currently a member of the AP English Development Committee.