Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Behind the Books: A Look at Plagiarism

When I do school visits, the topic of plagiarism and piracy often come up. Well, actually it’s usually teachers who bring in up during the Q & A at the end of my presentation.

My feeling is that the concept shouldn’t even be mentioned until grade 3. I think it’s fine for K-2 writers to copy text because it can help them learn how sentences are supposed to flow. The act of writing it somehow taps into a different part of their brain than reading it alone. In other words, it’s a powerful learning tool, especially for tactile learners.

ln addition, most of the texts K-2 students are interacting with very simple and basic. Because kids don’t have much to work with, it can be very difficult for young children to figure out a way to rephrase the ideas in their own words. But by grade 3, most students are ready for the idea that they need to respect the words of other writers.

Different authors have different ways of organizing their research. Some make photocopies and then physically move the pages around as they decide how to structure the information. I tell students I could never work that way, and they probably shouldn’t either. Here’s why.

I have a very good memory, and so do most kids. If I read a sentence and like the way it flows, I’m likely to remember it, especially if I read it multiple times. Then, when it’s time to write my own manuscript, that sentence or something very close, too close, is likely to flow out of my mind. I don’t consciously realize that I’m using someone else’s words, but it’s still plagiarism.

That’s why I always tell kids to take notes in their own words from the very beginning of their project. That way, they are forced to digest the information and recast it. Often, this process involves adding a little of myself or incorporating my own prior experiences. That means the thought that ends up in my notebook truly is my own.    

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