May 5, 2013

Want to eliminate cheating? It's easy!

Recently, my 8th grade English language arts students were writing our guiding question at the beginning of class. This is a routine activity that takes about two minutes. Some students write faster than others and finish in as little as 60 seconds.

As I meandered my way around the tables, looking in and chatting with small groups and individuals, I noticed one student, who had finished the task and was copying a friend’s homework. “I see something important is due in science today,” I said. The two girls looked up sheepishly and nodded. The copier asked if I was going to take the papers. “Why?” I queried. “I’m not hurt by your cheating; you are.” The cheater only shrugged and went back to copying. Her cohort grinned and shrugged, right along.

Are educators responsible for cheating?

Research indicates that cheating is on the rise, especially in high schools and colleges. Donald McCabe, a Rutgers professor, believes rampant cheating is due to the stress of competition that schools present. “I don’t think there’s any question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that’s abetted by the adults around them,” McCabe told The New York Times last year.

McCabe and other luminaries, like Harvard researcher Howard Gardner, believe the Internet may also shoulder some of the blame. Students, they claim, don’t understand honor codes and plagiarism, so they are quick to “borrow” content they find in a simple Google search.

It’s not the Internet, it’s grades!

I would argue that there is a much larger root to this problem. When I asked the girls in my class why they were so willing to copy their science worksheet, they quickly acknowledged that they needed the points to maintain a good grade. “Hmm,” I wondered aloud, “you never cheat in my class. Why is that?” They didn’t contemplate the question for even two seconds. “There are no points or grades on your assignments,” the copier quickly said, “so there’s no reason to cheat.”

A smile quickly brightened my face. “So, what do I value?” I asked, beginning to move away, so I could engage another group of students. “Learning,” the two said, almost in unison.

So, would you like to eliminate cheating in your class? It’s easy! All you have to do is abolish grades. Give your students feedback about their work, and allow them the opportunity to revisit activities and projects and improve them, in order to indicate mastery learning.

Cheating will disappear, and, best of all, your students will become independent learners.

cross posted at ASCDEdge

Don't miss Mark's book ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, now available in the ASCD store, Barnes & Noble and at