The dangers of plagiarism

Last week one of my students turned in a plagiarized book review. After consulting my department chair and one of our vice principals, I decided to give the student an opportunity to redo the review for partial credit.

The student had taken phrases verbatim from an online book review site and used them in the review. Our school's student handbook says instances of plagiarism should result in a zero with no opportunity to redo the work. I chose to be a little lighter in my punishment because: 1) the higher-ups gave me the green light to do so, 2) I wanted the student to do the work the right way, and 3) because I believed in making this a "teachable moment."

I hope the student never plagiarizes again, because in addition to it being dishonest, this student's other teachers might not be as accommodating. I also know that once students get to college, plagiarism is taken VERY seriously.

When I was a M.Ed. graduate student at Plymouth State University, I had an opportunity to teach freshmen composition. When I reported to the head of the PSU English Dept that one of my students had plagiarized an essay, the verdict was swift and decisive. After meeting with the university's academic integrity board, the student automatically failed my course and was placed on academic probation. A subsequent violation would likely result in expulsion from the university.

Education is the business of ideas. Academic honesty is paramount. Over the course of the year I will teach my students that plagiarism is more than copying something word-for-word and not providing attribution. It is copying someone's idea and not giving credit where credit is due.

Almost all of my students told me that taking someone else's idea and putting it in their own words is NOT plagiarism. Wrong. It is! Plagiarism is idea theft. If that idea isn't yours, and you don't attribute it, it doesn't matter if you change some words around so it's phrased in your own language. It's still plagiarism!

By the time students leave my classroom, they should know what plagiarism is, and they should know how to avoid it. Those who plagiarize in the future will do so because they're unscrupulous cheaters, not because they're ignorant.

For more info on plagiarism, check out this link from The University of Maine at Farmington.
Image from, accessed 9/27/08

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