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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Teaching Writing: Problems Students Face

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 I want to introduce you to a new three-credit graduate course in teaching writing.  I’ll give you a peek into one of the lectures in Module 1, “Problems students face in learning.”

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

New Online professional development course

Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners is now available. This 3-credit graduate course is aimed at beginner and experienced English-language teachers who want to improve their knowledge and skills in teaching academic writing.

Teaching Writing, a multimedia course containing five modules, is your complete guide to teaching academic writing. Each module has a short video introduction, several recorded lectures, an accompanying tape script, a reading, an interview with a writing expert (in three of the modules), and a self-assessment exercise. To obtain university credit for the course, participants must complete five quizzes and two assignments.

A peek inside Module 1

peekinsideThe first module explores the context for teaching and learning academic writing to adolescent English language learners. Topics include some effective ways for teaching academic writing,  problems English language learners face in learning, the distinction between comprehensible input and output, and an overview of the WIDA writing rubrics with Kelly Reider. In today’s post, I want to share with you parts of Lecture 2.

Teaching Writing

Module 1: Problems student face in learning

External issues

externalissuesHow well do you know your students? Experienced teachers realize that they have to take the time to get to know their language students as human beings. I have always taken the time to relate to my students, to understand where they are coming from, to learn about their interests and hobbies, and to ask about what they are good at.

Language teachers need to understand the external and personal issues in the lives of their students, so well described in “Teaching writing to diverse populations” (Fowler). Let’s look at three external issues.

First, learning to write well is challenging cognitively and linguistically, not only for English language learners but also native speakers of English.

Second, some English language learners come from disadvantaged homes at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. Many students work part time which cuts into their study time. In addition, some of them have learning disabilities. In the school where I teach ESL, over 10% of the students are dyslexic or have learning difficulties often related to stress.

Third, English language teachers may not be up to the task. They may lack the pedagogical knowledge as well as effective strategies and techniques to teach academic writing. They could benefit from professional development courses to upgrade their teaching skills, such as this course.

Furthermore, English language teachers may not have access to good resources. They may not know how to implement consistently academic writing into their program.

Let’s now move on to three personal issues or problems that English language learners may have (Fowler). Learners often lack the knowledge and skills to write well. Even more importantly, they may not be motivated to write well or write at all.

internalissuesPersonal issues

Knowledge problems

I teach academic writing to intermediate and advanced ESL learners. Yet many of them do not know what good writing is. They do not know how to start to write, thinking that just putting ideas on paper pell mell is good enough. They need to improve their knowledge of vocabulary—using synonyms and antonyms for example.

Moreover, students often have a poor sense of sentence structure and variety. Learners may know who the latest pop stars are, but they have limited knowledge of current events or social issues in general.

Finally, learners are not always familiar with some of the purposes of writing, such as to persuade or inform readers.

Skill problems

Let’s move on to skill problems that many English language learners face (Fowler).

A common problem I see among learners is that they are not interested in planning. They fail to plan which effectively means that they plan to fail.

Another problem is that they do not how to revise their writing. It is like pulling teeth to get them to reflect on their writing. Another issue is that they do not know how to self regulate their ideas and actions. It is a metacognitive skill that they have perhaps never been taught.

As most teachers know, learners have limited attention spans. That is not surprising. The latest research shows that the attention span of adults is only eight seconds. As I mentioned before, many learners have either visual or motor disabilities.

Motivation problems

Let’s have a brief look at some of the motivational issues that English language learners have (Fowler). For example, they have rarely been taught to develop writing goals. So they do not know how to achieve success. Some think that they fail to write well because they are not smart enough. They may have this erroneous self-belief that they can never succeed.

In addition, many learners are not very persistent in their attempts to write well. They are easily discouraged by constant failure.

What are some effective ways to teach academic writing?

lightbulbEnglish language learners need to be taught how to write effectively. They need to know how to achieve their goals within a given context. Learners need to be taught how to express themselves effectively. They need to learn how to write well-organized, clear texts.

Here are three effective strategies for teaching writing that we will explore further in later lectures (Graham, 1-2).

  • First, teachers should explicitly teach learners appropriate writing strategies. They should use effective instructional models, such as Engage-Study-Activate that we look at in lecture 2.1 (Harmer, 25-29).
  • Second, teachers should help learners develop their reading comprehension skills to become better writers. Reading can be an important tool to develop writing skills (Writing). Both reading and writing can help learners think and learn better. Teachers should show learners good texts, highlighting their outstanding features.
  • Third, students should receive regular feedback to keep track of their own success in writing. This feedback can take the form of teacher to students, students to students, and student self-reflection, using for example the Virtual Writing Tutor. More about this online tool in lecture 5.5.

Other strategies that we can mention include teaching grammar explicitly, providing challenging activities, and helping students build their vocabulary (Writing).

In Teaching by Principles, Brown recommends teachers get students to:

  • Use the practices of “good” writers, such as following an organizational plan as they write
  • Do prewriting activities, such as conducting outside research or discussing a topic or question.

In the next blog post, we will take a peek into one of the lectures in Module 2,  “What is successful language learning?”

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

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