Should We Do More To Sensitize School Going Children About Plagiarism?

They could knowingly or unknowingly commit it without understanding why it is wrong. It is not just about protecting intellectual property but also about enabling them to be original to shine instead of relying on someone else's work to be appreciated.


After a certain amount of time, a writing teacher has a fairly good sense of every student's writing style. A good teacher would generally appreciate sincere efforts even if the written work is not upto the mark. Sincere effort is what counts.


Somehow writing is hardly a means of self expression. It is often associated by students with grades/marks/pleasing the teacher/parent. That association tends to make writing a chore, something that becomes a reason to be judged and 'lectured' to. Computer literacy and access to the internet makes it so tempting to simply lift off text from someone else's work for one's assignments without a second thought. It can happen due to a number of reasons, none of which justify the practice.


Recently, we were working on character sketches for an activity. Students were asked to express their views about any character that caught their attention either in books or movies. Some of the teen writers turned in what first seemed like impressive first drafts. It was a moment of pure joy to think that my efforts as a teacher were working and the children were writing with enthusiasm. It felt good to see their enthusiasm until, something felt odd. There were words, phrases being used here and there and it did not fit the teen writer's writing style that I have grown familiar with over months. Out of curiosity, I googled the chosen character's name and tracked down the source.

It felt good to see their enthusiasm until, something felt odd. There were words, phrases being used here and there and it did not fit the teen writer's writing style that I have grown familiar with over months. Out of curiosity, I googled the chosen character's name and tracked down the source.

What seemed like the most surreal moment a couple of minutes back, came crashing down. I felt sad. I couldn't decide if these children were trying to please me or worse, didn't care about their assignments and had simply lifted information off the net "to be done with it". Being a big fan of the book Think Again by Adam Grant, the one thing I have learnt is not to stick to the first few reactions/thoughts that emerge in challenging situations such as this one, but to take another shot at the matter and yeah, as he says, 'think again'. When I had calmed down a bit, it hit me that this could be a matter of lack of self confidence or perhaps something at their end which did not put them in the right state of mind that day. I could not discount those factors.


A discussion about plagiarism and what it means

No matter what the cause for this act, I took this opportunity to talk about plagiarism in the batch that I had first noticed this tendency. 2 out of 6 were familiar with the word 'plagiarism' and were clearly able to explain what it means. From there on we talked about why it happens and why it is wrong. Some of the teens pointed out that it is unfortunate that sometimes the writer wouldn't even be aware that his/her work has been used elsewhere by someone without giving due credit. That's the big wide world. What if it happens in small environments such as our writing sessions. Either someone could be doing this as they don't know how to paraphrase, infer and write one's one thoughts in response or they do it on purpose on account of many reasons.


One teen pointed out that when they handle unseen passage comprehension texts in their exams, there often isn't much time to be original and the sure shot way to get maximum marks is by lifting off text from the passage and providing the same as answers in response to questions. Is comprehension about the ability to spot the right answers in a given text or is it about inferring and expressing the same in one's own words?


Is comprehension about the ability to spot the right answers in a given text or is it about inferring and expressing the same in one's own words?

School assignments


It is all about marks. Score marks in your assignment so that your overall grade is taken care of. So that you don't fail. Is that the purpose of school assignments? Isn't it about freely exploring, researching to learn about a subject at your own pace? Isn't it also about making the right inferences and presenting one's findings? It is also a preparation for the future. Somehow, somewhere this objective gets diluted and lost somewhere in the bigger scheme of things. It all boils down to marks/grades.


Fast forward to the time when one needs to apply to colleges and admission processes rely on written essays. One is tested on one's ability to write. When it matters the most, students tend to fail as they have hardly written anything original.

Fast forward to the time when one needs to apply to colleges and admission processes rely on written essays. One is tested on one's ability to write. When it matters the most, students tend to fail as they have hardly written anything original.

It isn't enough to say- "Don't copy from your friends"

The truth is that it is NOT ok to copy from anyone- known or unknown.


Enabling students the way to research, paraphrase and infer.

Students sometimes tend to copy word to word because they don't know how to paraphrase. They think this is far more intelligent way as work seems to get over fast and the chances of their writing passing off as good is far higher. Showing them examples of writing that includes text lifted off from someone else's work without giving due credit and contrasting the same with originally written text that has been inspired by or based on published work, will help them understand the difference. Opportunities to try this out outside of the exam zone will help them become better readers and writers. Working little by little, steadily to become better at written expression is sweet. Lifting someone's work off the internet to score a good grade is hardly satisfying and in the long run, utterly useless.


 

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