Academic dishonesty is an unfortunate reality. Students have countless reasons for committing academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating. In the ELA world, students “borrowing” papers from friends, buying them online, and/or recycling their own work all pose significant problems. How can teachers combat this challenge? And how can we make students our partners in this pursuit?

Define the problem. Before teachers can make students partners in the pursuit against academic dishonesty, we have to be explicit about the problem. Clearly define the scope of “academic dishonesty”, and clearly communicate that definition to students, parents, and other stakeholders. The easiest way to do this is through your syllabus. In addition, include this definition on assignment sheets. I include a blurb about academic dishonesty and its consequences on the assignment sheet for all major projects, papers, and presentations.

Work together. One or two educators cannot fight academic dishonesty alone, so enlist your team, department, and administration in this endeavor. Last year, my department developed a specific department policy, which was in line with building and district policy. This proved to be helpful because now that we share a definition and language, we have universal consequences, and we have the support of our administrators. If everyone approaches the issue in the same, consistent manner, students will recognize that there’s nowhere to hide.

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Create a culture of integrity. With a clearly defined problem and a collaborative approach to tackling the issue, educators can begin to build a team, department, and building culture that only accepts and actively promotes integrity. We’ve all seen the cheesy character-promoting programs that come into buildings and hang a few signs, but that’s not enough. We have to live integrity and model it for our students everyday.

  • Do this by admitting when you have made a mistake so students have a model of how to admit and fix mistakes.
  • In addition, every time I reference or quote someone else’s work (whether in a Google Slides, on a handout, or verbally), I include an attribution. We’ve all heard that “good teachers are good thieves”, and, well, while it’s true that we do exchange ideas and resources, part of the integrity culture gives credit where credit is due. I’m not saying not to exchange ideas and resources, but model attribution for your students.
  • Further, the ELA classroom is the perfect place to consistently point to examples of integrity (Atticus Finch) and examples of action without integrity (Cassius).
  • Finally, reward and celebrate integrity. When your students make a choice that exemplifies high character, point it out and celebrate. There doesn’t have to be a tangible reward like a gold sticker, but a smile or a fist bump is great positive reinforcement.

If all of these sound like small ideas–they are. Culture doesn’t come from one large action: culture is the culmination of countless small actions.

  1. Empower Students. Make students partners in the pursuit of academic honesty by making sure they have the right tools.

  2. Make sure students know about great resources like the Purdue OWL or The MLA Style Center.  

  3. Help students determine the credibility of resources.

  4. Make sure students know where to locate key citation information. The librarians at my school do a great job sharing the library databases with students, including helping students find the citations that the database already provides.

  5. Give students tools to check their work before they submit. This might be a quick checklist, the rubric, or a Critical Friends opportunity.

Regardless of which tools you use, it’s important that students have easy access to these tools, know how to use them, and have time to employ and experiment with them. How do you respond to academic dishonesty? Let us know your best suggestions in the comments. 

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