In the know - Plagiarism: how to take action

26th September 2008 at 01:00
Taking action.

Exams and tests are stressful for children, and thankfully the incidents of cheating uncovered each year are few and far between. Many courses now require coursework, and homework regularly includes internet research. Copying from the internet seems to be on the increase, yet many children don't think of it as cheating. So how do you deal with children who deliberately plagiarise other people's material or copy from the internet?

The key thing for copied work or coursework is to try to establish intent. Unintentional copying, either during tests or homework, needs to be dealt with by teaching children about the importance of submitting their own work and not that of others. The concept of plagiarism, passing off someone else's work as your own, is a serious issue and if it is not dealt with, the consequences become more serious as the pupil progresses and could lead to expulsion from a university course.

Cheating in tests is most likely to be intentional. The old saying that "the only person you cheat is yourself" may be true, but sometimes the cheating can result from the pressure placed on pupils to perform, either by the school or their parents. Sometimes it is because the pupil doesn't want to appear stupid or less clever than their classmates. So what should you do?

- Privately describe the situation objectively and unthreateningly. "These answers look like they were done by someone else. Can you tell me anything about it?"

- Investigate the reason for cheating: is the work too difficult for the pupil?

- Allow pupils to tell you the truth about suspected copying, without excessive punishment.

- Once cheating has been admitted, ask the pupil what the sanction should be. They invariably suggest something worse than you would administer.

- If the cheating is exposed publicly, help the child regain classmates' trust. This is very important.

- If dishonesty persists, talk with other members of staff and ask for the parents to be involved.

James Williams is a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex.

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