Plagiarism. ARGH! Grading a stack of research papers, in any subject, will always produce a plagiarism headache. Whether the students intentionally plagiarized or whether they didn’t realize the information needed to be cited, the teacher is still left with the responsibility of how to deal with it. You can just give the student a zero and be done with it but good teachers rarely allow students to walk away from these teachable moments. We want them to learn from their mistakes. We don’t want them to end up like some of our politicians lately (German and American) who seem to have forgotten to mention where they got their material.
At my current school the policy for Academic Honesty is quite strict. We have a “3 Strikes and You’re Out” rule. A student’s first offense will be a letter home to parents and a parent conference with the year head. The idea is to show the seriousness of academic honesty. Most kids will never make it beyond this point; this conference is serious and scary. A second offense will get a student another letter and a parent conference with the Principal. This is the last stop before expulsion. The third offense will lead to an expulsion. This might sound harsh, but wouldn’t it be more harsh to receive a letter from the International Baccalaureate stating that you were not going to receive a diploma due to a failure in citing your sources?
Kids are expected to start learning about the importance of citing their sources as early as the 4th grade. Students doing research at this level usually make a small Works Cited page, showing their teacher where they got their pictures and information for their work. Posters, dioramas, digital presentations, or written research work are all expected to have something that shows where the information came from.
In the Middle School years, students are asked to follow the MLA formatting rules for a Works Cited page. They do this with the aid of an online tool called Noodle Tools. The student inputs the website or ISBN number of the source they are using, and the tool creates a citation that can then be downloaded into a Works Cited page.
Noodle Tools is much more than just a Works Cited page generator. It helps older students with in-text citations, and it also has a note card and outlining function. It makes the research process paperless. Gone are the days of organizing note cards in piles. Students type in a quote or a paraphrased selection of information. They tag the card with the topic that it is supposed to help support. When in the outline mode, the tool organizes the note cards into an outline. Students then decide what to keep and what to discard.
In grades 9-10 students are expected to use MLA format. They are to use in-text citations and create a proper Works Cited page. In grades 11-12, the referencing style is set by the subject teacher. Some use Chicago, some use MLA, and others use APA. Yet the message is always the same: cite your sources. Academic Honesty is important.
At every school in which I have taught, there has been strong debate on how and when we should teach students to cite their sources. Some teachers think that the 6th Grade is way to young to deal with such things. Some teachers think that teaching research skills is too time consuming; for them covering content is more important than covering skills. Some teachers think that there is no point in teaching them proper citations until the 11th and 12th grades because, after all, they are just going to do it wrong anyway until they reach the Diploma Years. Some teachers feel that too much time is spent stressing the skill of proper referencing rather than stressing the skill of deep critical thinking.
Regardless of which side of the debate you may sit you cannot deny that we are living in a fast and furious digital age. The world’s knowledge is just one click away. It is too easy for them to cut and paste and forget to tell us where things came from. If we don’t teach our students about where to find information and how to cite that information, we are doing them a huge disservice. They need to begin at a young age to discern, is this my brain? Or someone else’s brain? Is this my photograph? Or is this a professional’s work that must be acknowledged? Simple or complex, MLA or Chicago, we must show the reader our sources.
How do you deal with plagiarism in your school or line of work?
Here is an article highlighting where Rand Paul forgot to cite his sources. And here is an article on the consequences of Germany’s former defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg not citing his sources.