For our column, Ask an Educator, we turn to educators, whether teachers, tutors, or principals, to answer frequently asked questions from parents. To send in your question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, our question is:
“What is plagiarism? Why did my child receive a ‘0’?”
Answering for us Aaron Adams, Head of Test Prep at The Learning Center/Hyde Academy.
When a student plagiarizes and they are from a culture that does not necessarily see it the same way as the West, I usually view it as a teachable moment. Many of my students who go to local schools tell me that plagiarism is not considered a negative act, and is sometimes even considered the proper way to do an assignment. Therefore, I would rather have these students learn about plagiarism when they are younger, and when the consequences are less severe than when they are in college and in the West.
Due to the differences between our two cultures, many of the Chinese parents and students I have worked with are surprised that plagiarism is taken to be such a serious issue. They are even more surprised when I explain the often severe punishments meted out in the West. Many international schools and all Western universities will give students a failing grade for the entire course, even for a first offense. Repeat offenses in America often are punished by expulsion from school. When this happens, a student may be blacklisted and prevented from enrolling at a new university.
When plagiarism occurs in one of my classes, I invest a lot of time in making sure students understand plagiarism, since my job is not just to educate students about the subject matter of the course, but also to prepare them for a Western learning environment. While teaching students about plagiarism can take a lot of time and is admittedly less entertaining than the regular curriculum, it is a critical part of any training for a student headed for a Western-style international school or a Western university.
If I catch a student plagiarizing, I usually give a warning the first time and make a student redo the assignment. If they fail to do so, they get a zero. If a student did not intend to plagiarize, thinking that mixing in their own words would not result in plagiarism, I also allow them to redo the assignment. If a student plagiarizes after I have given a warning, I give the student a zero for the assignment. Although receiving a zero can be very uncomfortable for some students, I believe in the long-run it is less traumatic if children can learn to surmount these obstacles in an environment where they can practice, where the consequences are less permanent.
Photo: courtesy of Aaron Adams