Writing with English learners: Why plagiarism is serious business

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Frank Bonkowski is an educational writer, English language teacher, and e-learning specialist, passionate about learning and teaching. As a lover of writing, Frank has a twofold mission: to teach English learners to write better and to train language teachers in teaching effective academic writing. He was a teacher trainer at several universities, including McGill, Concordia, and TELUQ, a center of distance education.  We are thrilled to have Frank as a member of our online course community at English Learner Portal.

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In today’s post, let’s look at ways you can help learners avoid plagiarism. The text is based on a lecture in Module 3 of my three-credit graduate course in teaching writing.

Why plagiarism is serious business

cartoongirlcomputerIn this lecture, we tackle the serious problem of plagiarism. If a learner is caught plagiarizing, it can have serious consequences.

At college or university level, the least serious penalty could be getting a zero grade on an assignment; a more serious penalty would be failing the course altogether. The most serious penalty would be getting thrown out of the school.

Learners need to be able to properly paraphrase, summarize, and quote the ideas of others when doing research. In doing these things learners avoid plagiarism.

In this lecture, we’ll first look at who is guilty of plagiarism. Then, we’ll review two strategies for helping learners avoid plagiarism: taking notes and paraphrasing.

Who is guilty of plagiarism?

Ask learners if they have ever taken parts of someone’s writing without citing the source.

Ask learners if they have ever used quotations without giving credit.

Inexperienced writers make these mistakes. It’s easy, simple to do, and seems harmless. If learners haven’t mastered the intricacies of English, it may be tempting to plagiarize. This is true for both native and non-native speakers of English alike.

Plagiarism, also called “cyberplagiarism” by McWhorter, has increased dramatically with cartoonlightbulbthe widespread use of the Internet (Successful 592).

It can take 3 different forms:

  1. a) “borrowing” information from online sources without acknowledging it,
  2. b) cutting and pasting material directly without citing the source,
  3. c) buying essays or papers online and using them as your own work.

Copying the ideas of others is not new. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Martial complained about others stealing his poetry.

Plagiarism is not just a violation of another’s writing. it’s also harmful to creators of music, videos, and graphics. For example, here is an interesting anecdote.

Songwriters sometimes commit plagiarism and may get heavy fines if found guilty. In 2014, the Marvin Gaye family was awarded a whopping $ 7.3 million for copyright infringement of a 1977 Gaye song by another singer.

Any way you look at it, plagiarism is theft—the stealing of somebody else’s ideas. Plagiarism is just dumb.

So how can writers avoid plagiarism or be more conscious of it?

The answer is simple. They can learn and practice how to take notes and to paraphrase.

Tip #1 for avoiding plagiarism: Take Notes

nocountryforoldmenLearners need to get into the habit of reading carefully and taking good notes.

Here is a student example using the two-column method (which I explain in another lecture of the online course) presented in an academic English classroom course I teach. The student had to take notes using an online film review.

Film: “No Country for Old Men”

Keyword and questions

  • Unpredictable narrative
  • Breathtaking
  • Sanguinary film
  • Remarkably
  • Sharpest
Notes (key ideas and facts) A modern movie
“Remains remarkably grounded in the everyday”
“Sharpest Coen Bros. film in years”
“Excruciating violence to ratchet up the tension”
“Shocks ’round every plot twist”
Summary:

Review by Bob Mondello , art critic: A really great movie and even the best Coen’s Brothers film in a while.

The movie has a surprising narration and is remarkably authentic and realistic.

The violence keeps the tension high and shocks viewers at every turn in the plot.

Tip #2 for avoiding plagiarism: paraphrase

Paraphrasing is a restatement of an original text in the writer’s own words. It could be a restatement of an entire sentence, part of a sentence, or one or more paragraphs, written in about the same length as the original.

It shows that a writer understands clearly the meaning of the original text. Paraphrasing is a useful way for all writers, but particularly non-native speakers of English, to improve their writing skills.

Here is a useful 10-point paraphrasing checklist you can share with your students.

checklist

Sources:

Douglas, Scott Roy. Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success. Don Mills: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

McWhorter, Kathleen T. Successful College Writing: Skills, Strategies, Learning Styles. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.​

Williams, Julia. “Unit 4: Art History.” Academic Connections 4. White Plains: Pearson Education, 2010. 75+. Print.

For more helpful teaching tips, enroll now in Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners and earn 3 university credits.

In the next blog post, we will take a look at the SQ3R method based on a lecture in Module 4 of the writing course.

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop

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