After calling a student into my office, this conversation ensued:
Me (handing a student back her paper): This essay was taken directly off of the internet. Why did you plagiarize?
Student (looking at her paper and a copy of the website): I didn't plagiarize, I asked my cousin to write this essay and I really don't know where she got it from.
Me (in my head): ARGGGGG, that is still cheating! What do you not understand about this????
I have worked in schools where cheating was rampant and I have worked in schools where it was almost non-existent. What I learned is that cheating is often a cultural thing. Different cultures view "cheating" very differently and the culture of cheating can vary greatly from country to country, from school to school and from classroom to classroom.
The traditional approach to combating cheating has been to monitor the students more and more closely. Teachers make multiple versions of tests, make students sit in isolation, make them keep their hands where we can see them, generally treat them as potential criminals. This is a terrible thing for teaching and learning because it pits teachers and students against each other. We are no longer a team, striving to help each other but rather adversaries looking for ways to outwit each other in a game to win points.
And just as arms races cause countries to invest large amounts of resources into making the planet significantly less safe, schools that devote large amounts of time and other resources to policing students, ultimately make the learning environment very much less effective.
To put a stop to cheating, we need to really understand what motivates students to cheat or not to.
Why Students Cheat
1. They cheat because we have taught them that the goal of education is points and ranking, not skills and knowledge.
When I think about it, attitudes about the value of knowledge and skills and the reasons we cheat extend far beyond the classroom. In many ways school is a reflection of our society as a whole but it is not merely a reflection, it also helps to form society. What people learn from school they take with them when they graduate and it becomes a part of society as a whole. Many, if not most, of the things we learn at school are not informational in nature but rather are lessons about how to behave in groups, what is expected from us by our superiors, and how to fit in to society.
These are things we teach to our students by using the systems we use in teaching. For example, we teach students that the value of learning is not the knowledge itself, but the points that can be earned by demonstrating that knowledge. It seems a subtle difference but it is an important one. By taking the motivation to learn away from the skills and knowledge and putting it onto something more abstract like points, we separate students from the desire to better understand the world, an inner desire, and we redirect that motivation into getting an external reward, points, grades and rankings.
This in essence is what we do in our working lives as well. Instead of being motivated to work in order to improve the quality of life on Earth, we are now working for money. Our value no longer depends on what we contribute to society, but now depends on how many dollars, yen or Euros we have in our bank accounts. It therefore no longer matters what we are doing or what the consequences are for what we are doing, it only matters that we have money. It is especially important, that we have more money than the people around us.
What can we teachers do about it?
I don't know about you, but only on rare occasions do the institutes of learning I have worked for not asked me to grade my students. Seeing that I am required to give my students grades and they will naturally be comparing their grades against each other, how do I change the focus of my class away from points and competition and onto skills and knowledge?
2. They cheat because they are desperate, if they don't pass this test/assignment, they are failures!
High-stakes testing is a part of students' lives in so many parts of the world. If you don't pass this test, you won't get into this high school, this university, this graduate program, this job. Our worth is boiled down, quite brutally, into a single number. You are in the 95% and you are in the 45%, that is where you stand and who you are. Thankfully, now that I am older, I realize that I am much more than a number, but back when I was a student, that was a big part of my identity.
What can teachers do about this?
3. They cheat because they have seen other people cheating and getting away with it.
As I mentioned earlier, cheating is a culture and it varies widely from group to group. I know that when I am standing at an intersection waiting for the light to change with a group of other people, i am much more likely to cross the street against the light if I see even just one other person do it. After all, it is hot/cold/windy/rainy/whatever and I don't want to be the only chump stuck waiting on the other side of the street. I justify it in my mind because that other person did it too, it is only natural. In Japan, on the other hand, I stay and wait for that light because everyone else is waiting and I know that if I cross I am going to be silently judged.
So how do I get my whole class to reject cheating?
When students cheat, here are a few things to keep in mind.
How do you handle it when you catch your students cheating? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Still curious to learn more about teaching a language? Check out these posts!
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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