Over the last few weeks I've been confronted by plagiarism in my kiddos' writing. Every Wednesday, following our WBW discussion, the home learning task is to engage in a reflection following one (of two) provided prompts. Recently I found a few sentences that used structures beyond the grasp of a particular student and made note. Within minutes I found the same sentences sitting in a whole block of similar sounding sentences in another student's response. A quick Google search found the source. The following week a different student handed in a reflection that had been copied word-for-word from an online article.
I was furious! At first with myself for asking reflection questions that could so easily be 'googled'. Then I reread the plagiarised answers and realised that they didn't answer the questions anyway. Phew. (Big lesson learnt though!) Then I was mad with the kiddos for taking the easy route. I started wondering why they felt the need to take the easy route and whether I'd somehow communicated an expectation of 'right' answers.
So many questions:
- Are the reflection prompts not inviting true reflection?
- Have I somehow communicated that there is a 'right' answer to these reflection questions?
- Am I communicating that about everything we do?
- Why else would they feel the need to take the easy route?
I've been back and looked at all of the reflection prompts I've set over the last year and a bit. There have been a few that didn't ask for reflection but on the whole they do. I also noticed that my prompts improved over the course of the year and so did the student reflections: we grew together. This lead to another observation: the reflections from the kiddos who are VRPs for a second year are miles ahead of the others. Gee! What a surprise!
I thought back to the early days of last year. I spent a LOT of time reinforcing with the class that there were NO right answers to these reflections. The message I explicitly gave early: I want to see YOUR thinking about our discussions. Once we established that I moved on to expecting them to back up their thinking with reasons, explanations and evidence. This year I've missed giving those messages explicitly. I need to go back and be much more explicit about the purpose of the task and my expectations. I need to be explicit about academic integrity: what it is, why it is important and how to demonstrate it. My kiddos need this.
Much of what happens in our learning space is so widely open that there are as many answers as there are kiddos. I'm pretty sure that I don't set a 'right' answer very often. I often don't even have a set answer in mind!
And the easy route? Well. I think there are multiple ways to look at that. I know that many of the kiddos are finding the high expectations I have of them REALLY challenging. And I know that they're REALLY trying to do the right thing. All of the kiddos who copied their reflections from the internet are new to my class this year. It's early in our journey together; we will get there (wherever there is). This is the beginning.
Seeing plagiarism on my kiddos' pages horrified me, but it started a process of reflection that will ultimately benefit us all. We'll can learn together to clean out the grubbiness it creates.
How do you deal with this kind of thing with your kiddos?
This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning