Writing with English learners: Why plagiarism is serious business

frank

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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Set a larger table….

Set a Larger Table
by guest blogger Laurie Meberg

I had never felt more isolated in my life. My family had just moved to a town where we knew only one family. This was my first opportunity to live in a foreign town where I did not have a local community on which to rely. To make matters more isolating, I was a stay at home mom to two girls under the age of three while my husband set up his office in the town center. My shortcomings in the local language limited me further. Finally, I was used to blending into the chaos of an international city and had found myself in a small town where I stuck out more than I had in the city. While I saw the same people every time I went out of the house, they did not seem to recognize me.

My neighbors did not know what to make of this blonde-haired, fair-skinned family who had just moved into their building. They had heard through the grapevine that my husband would be teaching English lessons to take the place of our dear friends in the local language institute. While most of the neighbors and people in our community avoided us as they passed us by – watching us only out of the corners of their eyes – one family in particular took us in. My next-door neighbors and their five teenage daughters were life to me in that season.

MebergBlogWithin a week of our arrival, Muzyen and her family greeted us and welcomed us. When I came home from errands, they eagerly kept the kids while I shuttled groceries up the three flights of stairs. Muzyen understood my younger daughter’s nervous cries and stood singing to her in the hallway as they watched me work. When her daughters were home, one of the daughters would keep my girls entertained while I cleaned the house or cooked dinner – teaching them songs, hand-games, and stories.  When my family returned from outings and clomped and chattered our way up the stairs, Muzyen’s family would open the door to talk with us and visit with our little kids. Occasionally, on long afternoons, Muzyen would break up the monotony of my day by inviting me for tea. She offered sweet pastries and savory dishes as we fumbled through small-talk and conversation.

I learned through our visits that Muzyen’s husband had recently retired from a career in mining. In their early years of marriage, the couple lived far from their families while Muzyen’s husband worked long shifts in the mines. She spent those years home with little children having to find her own friends and support system but the early years had been very hard. She encouraged me by empathizing with my isolation and welcoming me into her life.

Holidays were the hardest days for me as a foreigner in a strange land. Surprisingly, our own holidays were not so hard. Rather than wallow in self-pity about missing our family, I would find creative ways to make traditional foods, decorate with what we could find, and teach the children about our holidays. While I missed celebrating with our extended family, I would visit with friends in other cities. I found that – rather than our own holidays – the local holidays were harder for me.

As a local holiday drew near, I noticed the community brimming with excitement as 02A12D2Geveryone prepared for a big event. The neighbors would clean their homes top to bottom – so thoroughly that they would even hang their carpets over the balconies to dry after hand-washing them. The community scoured the local markets and stores for specialty foods they would use for traditional meals, toys to give their children, and outfits to wear for the festivities. Furthermore, people stocked up their kitchens as shops would be closed for a few days.

While some ex-pats might take this as an opportunity to relax and stay home, I could not. Despite my introversion, I longed to be part of the festivities. I too wanted a reason to cook, clean, shop, and visit – anticipation that transformed the routine.

Al Fresco Dining, With Food Laid Out On TableMuzyen knew what it was to be an outsider. Because of that, she invited us to join her family’s festivities. One of the more intimate components of their celebrations was a breakfast to break their fast. Muzyen had already graciously included our family at a few of their iftar dinner meals. The breakfast marked the beginning of a three-day celebration. This was more of a family affair. Normally new friends or neighbors might visit on the third day, but in my observation not typically the first breakfast.

Muzyen taught me a lesson that day. She modeled for me how to be a neighbor and how to be a friend. There were not elaborate schemes or agendas hidden in her invitation – rather a simple invitation from one woman who had experienced isolation to another woman who was in the midst of it. She had no idea that some of her traditional foods were similar to those of my grandparents and she had no idea how honored I was to be included. She expanded her table, added four plates, and welcomed us in – not as strangers but as if we belonged.

I have applied this lesson many times in the past ten years. How hard is it for me to welcome a newcomer to our celebrations?  Being a newcomer is lonely. But to welcome a newcomer in speaks volumes.

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mebergLaurie Meberg has been working cross-culturally for seventeen years as a teacher, community developer, and refugee liaison. She learned two languages through immersion and tried to learn a third through friendships in a multicultural community. She has frequently helped emerging English speakers by being a conversation partner – mostly over cups of tea. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.
She can be found on instagram @ _lauries_stories_

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English Learner Portal    January 2018