Growing with Your Students: Integrity as an Issue for Primary Schools

For this week’s blog post, I’d like to follow up on Dr. Zeenath Reza Khan’s blog post from September 17. The post left us in a conundrum. How do we stop cheating when students have been primed by past experiences to take credit for work that is not their own and socialized to provide unauthorized assistance to their peers? We may not be able to eliminate it entirely, but we can reduce it.

In a study led by Kristina R. Olson and Alex Shaw, we have learned that children as young as five-years-old understand what constitutes the copying of ideas. By this, we mean plagiarism of another’s work. Children were also able to recognize that plagiarism is bad.  

So, where is the disconnect? What is going on between the time a child conceptualizes plagiarism as a bad thing and a young adult getting caught for cheating at the university level? Perhaps children are conditioned to cheat by poor elementary education practices, like Dr. Khan’s desert diorama. As a parent, you may be stuck in this position. Do you know how to be the “homework project manager” instead of the homework enabler? This is something you might be able to combat, as Dr. Khan’s daughter did, by reinforcing attribution at every age and grade level. 

In the broader picture, this is something we might advocate by making it a part of the country’s curriculum requirements. In the United States, this would be included in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which claims that “the master of each standard is essential for success in college, career, and life in today’s global-economy.” The Common Core requires students to be able “[w]ith guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question” at grade one (age 6-7). However, students are not required to take “notes on sources and sort evidence” until grade 3 (age 8-9) and they do not have to produce a “list of sources” until grade 4 (age 9-10). We are losing valuable formative years by waiting to require attribution.

A recent study by Zhao, Heyman, Chen, Sun, Zhang, and Lee offers a different perspective. Their research indicates that young children are also more likely to cheat as a prosocial obligation than for their own benefit. Whether or not this is because of their desire to have a positive reputation or if they believe someone is watching them, they still feel pressure to cheat to in order to help their peers. Building on this, Zhao et al. requested and received verbal confirmation from the children that they would not cheat, yet they still did. Sound familiar?

The design of your course and assessments plays a large role in the reduction of cheating. Equally important is your relationship with your students. Some practical tips on student centered learning can be found in Inside Higher Ed. For those of you looking at assessment design, this article from Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education may help you find out which types of assignments you can set in your courses. For larger writing assignments, you may also wish to scaffold the assignment. 

Something else to consider is your style of pedagogy. If you had to use one word to describe your teaching style, what would you say? For Catherine Denial, that word is kindness. When we look at the Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity, trust, fairness, and respect are three values you can develop with your students. Trust them when they confide in you, be fair when any issues arise, and respect the time and effort they put on assignments. Building positive relationships offers an additional check as your students will not want to disappoint you. 

Are all students naturally inclined to cheat, or are we setting them up for failure? Tell us how you are educating students about integrity at your institution in the comments.

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