That’s My Line! Teaching Students about Plagiarism
A 7th grade teacher assigns her class a 2-week research project on art history. She challenges her students to use a variety of sources in their research. As she explains the project to her students, she is met with 30 blank stares. One student gasps, “You mean we have to look up the books at a library?” Another one asks if it’s okay to do all of his research online. A girl in the back raises her hand and asks, “Can I interview my Dad for the project? He works at the art museum.”
Many students today have nearly unlimited access to raw information. If they don’t know something, it’s second nature for our students to “Google” it to figure it out. We can look up material in a matter of minutes that used to take people hours of research in a library. This easily accessible mass of information coming in from all directions might make it easier to find content for a research project, but students need to learn correct research techniques to critically analyze the information they read and correctly cite their sources.
As they introduce the process of doing research projects, teachers have the job of teaching their students how to correctly cite the articles, reference books, and primary sources they use in their research. The inclusion of Internet research throws a little twist into the process since students first have to determine if the information they are using is valid. We have to help our students learn how to critically sift through the information to find what is true and what is important. There are lots of lessons and guides available on the Internet to help you teach these skills to your class. The CyberSmart! Student Curriculum from Common Sense Media is an excellent place to start. From the main page, click on the get the curriculum hyperlink. Lessons from this curriculum are also cataloged and searchable on the Gateway.
Students doing a lot of online research for a project may cut and paste all the things they find useful or interesting, compiling information from many different sources into one document. That method works well for information gathering, as long as students are carefully keeping track of where each piece of information came from, so they can quote it in their final project. If they don’t re-write everything they paste or correctly quote and cite it, they may be unintentionally plagiarizing someone else’s work.
What is plagiarism, anyway? One Wikipedia article describes it as “wrongful appropriation,” “close imitation,” or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work. (As I write this, I wonder about my own citation and use of quotations. I guess I better do some of these lessons myself!)
Students may not understand the importance of citing sources and not copying someone else’s work, so it is vital that they learn what plagiarism is and how they can avoid it. Students will get some good experience with the subject with Whose is it Anyway and Considering Copying from the Cybersmart! Curriculum. A Way With Words from The Learning Network by The New York Time is also a nice place to start if you are working with students in grades 6-12.
If students don’t understand plagiarism, they will have a hard time preventing it. This could be a major problem later in their school years as self-directed research begins to play a bigger role in their education. If we can help students understand the importance of giving credit where credit is due, we will be helping them to succeed in college and beyond.
Joann introduced three good resources in her column about plagiarism and how teachers can introduce the topic in their classrooms. Please read her column (linked below) for more ideas.