April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Plagiarism: That ‘P’ Word!

Ah, tis’ spring! The smell of the flowers, the warmth of the sun, and the dreaded end of the term’s essay assignment! For most students, that means a heavy reliance on the Internet, where they have virtually instant access to information. This tempting availability of facts (or opinions presented as facts) has made it even easier for students to search, copy, paste, and turn it in! But while it’s increasingly easy for young digital natives to locate papers to plagiarize, it’s also easier for their digital immigrant teachers to uncover these acts of plagiarism.

Our goal as teachers really isn’t to “catch” students in the act of plagiarizing, but rather to teach them how to avoid it in the first place. While we teach kids how to research and write, we should also be teaching them how to use the many online tools that can make this process more efficient. Rather than running every student’s submission through a digital plagiarism checker, we should require kids to check their own papers using sites like Plagium.com, The Plagiarism Checker, and PaperRater.com to certify that their papers are their own.

The citation process is easier now than it has ever been thanks to tools such as BibMe, EasyBib, and Citation Machine. Students can enter ISBN numbers, websites, or book titles and get the framework for multiple citations at the same time. Then, with the click of a button, they can create their own works-cited page. Once their citations are created, my students submit their papers to PaperRater, which not only checks for plagiarism but also provides feedback on spelling, grammar, word choice, bad phrasing, sentence length, transitional words, word usage, and vocabulary.

PaperRater even assigns each submission a grade, with the caveat that it cannot take into account the meaning of the words, the structure of the ideas, or how well the arguments are supported. I use PaperRater to evaluate my own writing, and it always motivates me to revise what I’ve written to try to raise my grade. My competitive nature is stimulated. I receive instant feedback and tweak word choices and phrasing and correct misspellings and faulty grammar. The first time I submitted this article to PaperRater, I earned a grade of 77 percent with 0 percent plagiarized. While the latter was reassuring, I wasn’t satisfied with a “C” grade. So I continued to revise the article and when I resubmitted it, I earned an 83. (I’d have much preferred to crack 90 percent, but my deadline was approaching!)

Use of online tools like these help students strengthen their weak areas and make improvements before their papers ever reach the teacher’s desk. This process also empowers kids to take ownership of their writing. Just like in video games, they want to level-up! Teachers can turn writing into a competitive sport, and that might be just what students need to think critically about the writing process and their own skills. I know it works for me!