Student Voice and Preventing Plagiarism

An earlier AISL blog, “Engage to Prevent Plagiarism,” discussed resources and strategies to prevent plagiarism.  Encouraging students to engage with their topics and add their own voice was suggested by several authors as a method to prevent plagiarism (DeSena; Gilmore). One of my library objectives for this school year was to address the issue of plagiarism by guiding students to develop strategies and skills while also making the activities engaging for students and relevant to the curriculum. The following Preventing Plagiarism activity was a first step in helping students to make connections with ideas of others and to allow their own voices to be heard.

Engage with a Controversial News Story

Rather than confront students with a lecture on plagiarism, I collaborated with classroom teachers to connect a topical news story to their curriculum so that students could practice effective note taking and paraphrasing and be challenged to put their own spin on controversial topics.  Eighth graders in US History explored the Harriet Tubman $20 bill controversy.

Seventh grade ELA students examined an article on cloning (“Barbra Streisand Explains Why I Cloned My Dogs”) and compared motivations with ethical issues in their class novel The House of the Scorpion. (Streisand used a Texas company for the cloning procedure, so this made the news story more pertinent with our Texas students.)

Reasons and Examples of Plagiarism

After explaining that students would use the news story to practice paraphrasing to glean important ideas, we discussed the definition of plagiarism and the importance of respecting the words and ideas of others. In groups, students used “Think — Pair — Share” to identify the top three reasons students plagiarize.

Reasons most frequently identified included laziness, procrastination, concern over grades, and confusion about how to paraphrase and how to cite. This student brainstormed list was compared with a “Top Ten” list from Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students (Heinemann 2009). Two items on Gilmore’s list that were missing in our students’ brainstorming were noteworthy: Student Culture and School Culture. We discussed the importance of creating a culture of learning in which ethical behavior is promoted and valued (both by students and educators/administrators) and the importance of students adding their own voices to the scholarly dialogue.

In order to show how the consequences of plagiarism and unethical behavior can escalate, we discussed that cases of plagiarism result in 1) teacher/parent conferencing and re-doing a project in the middle school; 2) impacting grades in high school; and 3) possible expulsion in college if a student is found to have plagiarized. In the business world, plagiarism could mean the loss of career. An example of a college student accused of plagiarizing is Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel was accused of having plagiarized passages from another YA author’s novel; Kaavya lost a $500,000.00 two-book contract and movie deal. Jayson Blair is an example of a plagiarist in the business world; this New York Times journalist resigned after being accused of inventing interviews and posting over 37 plagiarized stories. (One of Blair’s fabricated interviews concerned a Texas family grieving their soldier son, so this struck a chord with our Texas students.)

To transition to the Preventing Plagiarism activity, students viewed the video Citation: A Very Brief Introduction (Library of North Carolina State University). The video animation illustrates how ideas build upon multiple sources: entering into a dialogue with multiple ideas allows students to make their own connections.


Make Connections with Multiple Viewpoints

The Preventing Plagiarism activity to evaluate the controversial news stories was adapted from a “Paraphrase Practice” activity in Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. During this activity, students

  • used the first two paragraphs of the new story to write a general summary
  • looked closely to identify an important sentence;
  • circled three to four important words to write a paraphrased sentence
  • and located one more important quote in the article to practice introducing a direct quote and citing with an in-text citation.

As eighth grade students read the NYT article to select their quote, they weighed multiple viewpoints. Was the decision to delay the Tubman $20 bill driven by 1) anti-counterfeiting safeguards (viewpoint of treasury secretary); 2) race and culture (viewpoint of Democratic Senator); or political correctness (viewpoint of President Donald Trump)? Students worked in groups of two so that they could talk aloud and tweak their paraphrased sentences (making sure the sentences were in their own words).  Eighth graders shared their sentences aloud, and we noted how individual student voices were evident in the results.

Seventh grade students followed the same paraphrase activity as eighth grade, but they used the NYT article about Streisand’s decision to clone her dog. Students then were challenged to look closely at quotes from a chapter in The House of the Scorpion to write a comparison/contrast paragraph discussing motivations of the character El Patron for cloning the boy, Matt.  Sentence stems were provided to aid students’ discussion:

Reflection on the Preventing Plagiarism Activity

As a short introduction to strategies for paraphrasing and citing sources, this lesson was successful.  This forty-five minute class did not allow for additional activities, but eighth graders could be challenged to research further the historical background of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson as they weigh the question of “What do we value as we decide who is featured on U.S. currency?”  The seventh grade teacher suggested a Socratic discussion could be a follow-up activity as students discuss further the character motivations and ethics of cloning. This Preventing Plagiarism activity promoted interesting insights from students and provided an opportunity for students to listen to their peers and appreciate how each used a similar source of information and added their own voice.

Bibliography

Barry, Dan, et al. “Correcting the Record: Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.” New York Times, 11 May 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

“Citation: A Very Brief Introduction.” YouTube, uploaded by Libncsu, North Carolina State University, 23 July 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMhMuVvXCVw. Accessed 25 Aug. 2019.

DeSena, Laura Hennessey. Preventing Plagiarism. National Council of Teachers of English, 2007.

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Gilmore, Barry. Preventing Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. Heinemann, 2009.

Holt, Karen. “‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed,’ Then Got Pulled.” Interview by Melissa Block. NPR, 28 Apr. 2006, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5369768. Accessed 6 Oct. 2019.

Streisand, Barbra. “Barbra Streisand Explains: Why I Cloned My Dog.” New York Times, 2 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/style/barbra-streisand-cloned-her-dog.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

Zhou, David. “Student’s Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy.” The Harvard Crimson, 23 Apr. 2006, www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/4/23/students-novel-faces-plagiarism-controversy-beditors/. Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

Plagiarism in a Digital Age

On October 29th, the New York Times published an article by Lionel Anderson and Katherine Schulten entitled Understanding Plagiarism in a Digital Age. If you haven’t read it yet, please, leave this blog post right now and take a moment to do so. I’ll wait.

Close Up of the thinker

 

This is me waiting patiently, just thinking…

 

Alright, you’re back. What did you think?

When an English colleague brought the article to my attention, I thought, “EUREKA! A good upper school blog topic! Let’s see how other librarians react to and/or are already handling this!” It is an ongoing conversation in my world and I would imagine it is in yours as well. We want to do it better. Maybe you can help?

Stating the obvious:

We are all dealing with busy, busy teens living in a digital age where one can copy and paste faster than one can actually say the words “copy and paste”. We mash up songs and retweet the ideas that resonate with us. We truly are a part of a sharing culture.  Shmoop and Spark have become verbs describing pre-class reading to prepare for a literary discussion, with or without an accompanying quiz. Can original thought survive such preparation, or are others’ words becoming the “barbs” that Anderson and Schulten refer to in the article?

What if you’re working with a multi-cultural population with different notions of intellectual ownership? If these students plan on attending American universities, isn’t it our responsibility to teach them the American rules of attribution?

I want to know how we can step down from the proverbial soapbox and speak to our upper school students like the young adults that they are. To stop preaching and scare tactics to engage with them in a genuine conversation that will instill the wisdom and the skills to read, to engage with a text, to synthesize, and to attribute. How do we weave this into our school culture, not just for a few minutes when handing out an assignment or during a Noodletools intro during a library visit? We need more.

This isn’t a new question, I know. I’m culling research to share with the committee I’m on and holy wow, there’s a lot out there on it. Information overloadddddd!!!!! I can read all of that, but I want to hear tried and true: what’s working for you and  your school?

Does your school have something like the ‘Plagiarism Learning Lab’ concept mentioned in the article?

Do you lead the conversation or is it another department, like English or history?

Do you work plagiarism discussion into other areas of school life, like advisory conversations, an opening week seminar, or your senior retreat?

What are you doing to address plagiarism in the digital age?