English teachers, history teachers—you know what it’s like. You’re pounding through grading a pile of papers from your students, and you’re feeling good. Then you hit that one (hopefully, it’s only one) with an entire paragraph lifted directly from Wikipedia or SparkNotes. What do you do? It’s plagiarism, of course, but is it deliberate?
Identifying the difference between deliberate plagiarism and skill deficits isn’t always easy. Students in high school—and sometimes even in college—have a fuzzy understanding of what constitutes plagiarism. For instance, they may not be clear on the difference between using a scholar’s argument to bolster their own and straight-out copying it. We consulted with the Teaching and Learning Innovations Team at Turnitin. They had the following tips to encourage academic integrity and avoid plagiarism:
1. Teach the habits of academic integrity early and often.
Sure, the definition of plagiarism and the consequences are outlined in the school handbook. As teachers, we go over the expectations for original academic work in the first week of school. After that, too often, it hardly gets mentioned again until there’s an incident. It’s not enough to share that plagiarism is a no-no. We need to explicitly teach our students what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. A colleague shared this story with us: “In writing workshop, I reminded my students never to cut and paste from their source material. One student then asked, ‘Is it okay if I retype it?’ She didn’t understand that retyping the words of the original source was still plagiarism.”
2. Explain the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism.
Before it even gets to the penalty stage, teach your students the academic writing skills that will help them avoid plagiarism. Another teacher uses Writing Skill Wednesdays every other week to teach the class a new skill. To teach paraphrasing, he gives students a short easy article to read and then tasks different groups of students to paraphrase each paragraph. They write for five minutes and then share them. The class discusses the paragraphs, asking questions like “Is the paraphrase accurate?” and “Is it adequately different from the original?” Simple exercises like the handouts and self-assessments in the Turnitin Paraphrasing Pack can be a great way to practice how to summarize or how to quote a source. The more students understand these skills, the less likely they are to make mistakes that cross the line.
3. Scaffold the writing process with progressive essay assignments.
A clear and firm essay-writing schedule with a series of due dates will help set up your students for success. When it’s late at night, and an essay is due the next day, the urge to take shortcuts can be harder to resist. Students often have to fight the urge to plagiarize if have to write an entire paper at the last minute. Instead, consider setting up a progressive essay assignment. First, students write their thesis statements. Once you review them, they can move on to creating an outline. After the outline is approved, they can write a first draft for peer review. By the time the final draft is due, your students have had the time to review their own work at each step.
4. Have students review their own drafts before they submit their final papers.
If, like many of us, you already use a program like Turnitin Feedback Studio to give feedback and grade student essays, you know that it helps you identify many different forms of plagiarism. Why not have your students find these missteps before you even see their papers. With Turnitin Draft Coach, students have access to reviewing tools at each stage of the drafting process that help them find their own errors. Draft Coach allows students to check if their essays contain passages with a high degree of similarity to other writing. Your students get the chance to address issues before the essay reaches your desk, and they also learn to be more self-reflective in their writing practice.
5. Share real-life examples
The issue of plagiarism can sometimes seem abstract or small to our students. After all, what difference does one sophomore paper make? Sharing examples from the news —whether it’s a politician accused of plagiarizing a speech or a reporter suspected of inventing sources—can help students understand the broader context. The discussion can serve as a powerful reminder to your students that plagiarism is serious and can call into question a person’s overall integrity. Encourage your students to share their opinions. Ask: Why did the person make this choice? What could they have done differently?
To learn more about Turnitin Draft Coach or sign up for the Beta version (must be a Turnitin customer), visit Turnitin.