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Plagiarism & Paraphrasing: “Read, Flip, and Write!”

Guest Post by Ben Pare, Program Consultant: Literacy, Burnaby School District 

Does this sound familiar?

You’re up late reading student essays when suddenly you come across a student who has obviously plagiarized.

Feelings of disappointment may be followed by ones of frustration or anger.

This seems to be a common experience.

As a secondary English teacher and Department Head, the issue of student plagiarism seems to be ubiquitous. Every year the topic seems to come up at one point of the year or another. And, every year, it remains a challenge for schools and teachers on how best to respond.

Recently, however, I came across an interesting response to this issue that seems to have some real potential.

In Sandra Matson’s article “Read, Flip, and Write!” (Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 2012) she explores the issue of student plagiarism.

She asked her high-school students to put up their hand if they knew what plagiarism was. Almost all did.

She then asked them to raise their hands if they what paraphrasing was. Not one student in any of her classes could tell her.

She concluded that her school was effective in conveying to students what plagiarism was, but were failing to help them have the knowledge and skills to avoid plagiarising, by paraphrasing.

Her response was to develop the following unit on paraphrasing:

  1. In pairs, students share with each other the last movie they saw
  2. Teacher tells students that what they are doing is paraphrasing
  3. Teacher finds a number of short (one page, one sided) high-interest texts (e.g. urban legends, mysterious tales, etc.)
  4. Students read their texts once or twice, without a writing utensil
  5. Students flip the page over, pick up their pen, and then write the story in their own words
  6. If they need to re-read the text, they had to first put down their writing utensil, and then read it again, before flipping it back over and continuing to write the story
  7. After doing this strategy a number of times, students became more confident in using their own words and not copying text verbatim!

Matson’s approach resonated with me because it does seem that our response to plagiarism is often to outline the consequences for such actions, give handouts on how to cite properly, but, rarely, do we implement a specific strategy, like “Read, Flip, and Write!”

Perhaps this could be a strategy that will help our late-night essay reading sessions end with feelings of pride and satisfaction!

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