Saturday, January 22, 2011

That’s My Line! Teaching Students about Plagiarism

A 7th grade teacher assigns her class a 2-week research project on art history. She wants her students to use all different types of sources for 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.” Students today have an unprecedented amount of access to raw information. Just about everything written down today ends up on the Internet. They can look up material in a matter of minutes that used to take people hours of research in the library. This easily accessible mass of information coming at them from all directions might make it easier to find content for a research project, but they need to learn the correct research techniques so they can critically analyze the information they read and correctly cite their sources to avoid plagiarism.

Students have been doing research projects for many years, and they have been learning how to correctly cite the articles, reference books, and primary sources they use in their research. Internet research throws a little twist into the process, though, since students first have to determine if the information they are using is valid. We have to help our students learn how to 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 “Research and Information Fluency” section of the free CyberSmart! Curriculum from Common Sense Media is a good place to start. Lessons from this curriculum are catalogued and searchable on The Gateway. The direct link to the CyberSmart! curriculum is here.

Students doing a lot of online research for a project may get caught in the “cut and paste” craze, compiling information from many different sources into one document. That method is okay for information gathering, as long as they are keeping track of where each piece of information came from, so they can quote it in their final project. If they are not careful to re-write everything they paste, they may be unintentionally plagiarizing someone else’s work.

What is plagiarism, anyway? Here is Wikipedia’s definition. Students may not understand the importance of citing sources and not copying someone else’s work, so it is important that they learn what plagiarism is. Joann introduced three good resources in her column about plagiarism and how teachers can introduce the topic in their classrooms. There are also some valuable lessons on the subject from CyberSmart! Try Whose is it Anyway and Considering Copying. The Learning Network by The New York Time always seems to have good lessons, too, and their plagiarism lesson for grades 6-12 called A Way With Words is no exception.

If students don’t understand what plagiarism is, they will have a hard time avoiding it. This could be a major problem later in their school years as they begin to do more research. If we can help them understand the importance of giving credit where credit is due, we will be helping them to succeed in college and beyond.

~Peggy's Corner - 1/20/2011~

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