Talk to librarians and you hear how widespread plagiarism has become. Talk to teachers and they know some kids do it but don’t recognize the scope of the issue, in part because unknowingly many of them plagiarize as well. How do you manage to convince students of the seriousness of plagiarism, and, even more daunting, how do you educate teachers without alienating them?
You can’t ignore it. That’s the first thing to recognize. One of our jobs is to teach ethical use of information. Because it’s so easy doesn’t make it right. Everything seems to out there just for the taking. And who will know?
Start with students. It’s best to begin introducing the concept as early as first grade. When these primary students do their first reports, have them do very basic citations. There is no need to worry about commas and periods and the details of an MLA cite. You want them to learn that if they use someone else’s idea, they need to say where they got it from. Young kids love it because it makes them feel grown up.
One of my students teaches the lesson by borrowing a pencil from one student and then letting another kid have it. She then asks if this is fair? The whole class realizes it isn’t. From there you can have them see this is a form of theft.
The same lesson can be augmented as students get older. Instead of telling them they shouldn’t copy, ask why it’s important not to do so. This may take longer but keep them at it. Explain that it is allowed with “credit” and once again, have them figure out the reason that’s acceptable.
The big leap is in guiding students to recognize that images, video clips, and audio available on the internet must also be cited. How would they feel if they posted a cartoon they created and someone copied it and used it as their own? You must constantly make it personal or relate it to their own life in some way.
One of the ways to make it relevant to older students is to share some of the court cases involving famous musicians and songs. A few students may be aware of a one or two notable ones, but it’s important to bring the issue to all students’ attention. Both Mental Floss and Rolling Stone cover some major ones. No one goes to jail, but there are consequences. It’s worth a discussion. If your school has a character education component, this falls within it.
Walk students through the various licensing shown under Tools on www.images.google.com and the filters Bing has on the right-hand side of www.bingimages.com. Let them see how different choices affect the images displayed.
You don’t have to do this on your own. It is legal to use lesson plans that other have created for sharing on the topic. A quick search on Google on Common Sense Media turns up an excellent list of lessons and resources for teaching about copyright and using materials ethically. For example, you can find a lesson plan on plagiarism for Grades 3-5 and another for Grades 6-8. Copyright and Fair Use is an animation for Grades 9-12.
Many students don’t even realize they are plagiarizing. Cut and paste is so fast and easy. Even when they “put it into their own words” they tend to just give a synonym for a word or two and perhaps switch the sentence around. Introduce them to Grammarly’s Free Plagiarism Checker. Rather than telling them they are plagiarizing, let them discover it for themselves. This might be a good time to inform high school students of how seriously colleges respond to plagiarism.
Jennifer LaGarde, an outstanding school librarian, has a site called Copyright and Creative Commons that has numerous links to her favorite resources. The inimitable Kathy Schrock also has resources on Intellectual Property including several on Creative Commons.
By standing firm for the principles of ethical use of information, you are demonstrating your leadership.
You may have a challenge in reaching teachers. The problem isn’t new it’s just different and bigger. Music teachers would copy sheet music because the budget didn’t allow for enough copies for the band/orchestra or chorus. Teachers would copy worksheets from a book they had and distribute it to the entire class. They would bring in a DVD of a movie from home and show it although they didn’t have the proper licensing.
How do you handle this without creating hostility between the faculty and you? Hopefully, your district has a copyright policy. Read it carefully and offer to help teachers stay within it. This way you are protecting them.
Next, express your concern to them about students plagiarizing, mostly unknowingly, and what challenges and problems this might cause them in college. Run a workshop on how to check students’ sources. Again, you are helping the teachers – not trying to make them wrong. Once you have done this, offer to show teachers how to use Creative Commons so they can “model ethical behavior for students.” This way you make it about the kids, but the teachers learn.
How are you handling the plagiarism issue? Does your district have a copyright policy? Who plagiarizes more in your school, teachers or students?