You cant beat Carnival for creativity, but Carnival
has also become a cesspool of plagiarism. Every year I am
appalled at the number of songs that use borrowed
pop melodies, many of which are not credited to the original
Even those songs that do receive credits on CD jackets succeed
in fooling many young listeners into believing that they are
original tunes. Its easy not to give Jack his jacket
on new wave radio programmes that often fail to announce the
singers or their songs, let alone point out the history of
the recycled melodies being used.
Its clear that teenagers today dont blink twice
about plagiarism. Theyre not bothered by the lack of
originality in the music they listen to or even their own
In May 2001, Rutgers University published the results of a
survey which claimed half of the 4,471 high school students
admitted to using stolen sentences and paragraphs from the
Internet and 74 per cent admitted cheating on a test.
Whats even scarier is that many students fail to see
using anything directly from the Internet as cheating. There
is a misconceived notion that if its on the Internet,
its fair game.
Every school needs a plagiarism policy. Teachers need to teach
what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. They also need to
give assignments that make plagiarism difficult.
An assignment which asks students to write a book review on
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen leaves open a whole host
of plagiarism possibilities as does an assignment such as
write an essay discussing themes in Pride and Prejudice.
Teachers have to think of questions and assignments that require
analysis rather than gathering facts or accumulating a list
of literary elements. History and science essay assignments
have to be analytical rather than factual.
One of the best assignments my daughter, Ijanaya, ever had
in history class was to tell the story of a slave girl who
was brought to the Caribbean. She had to do research on which
African people were enslaved, who enslaved them, the Middle
Passage and slavery in the Caribbean. She had to do research
about language, African names and historical events such as
the Cedula of Population. Then she had to create her own story.
Clearly students have to be taught how to be original thinkers
and how to avoid plagiarism. I start every school year by
demonstrating how to rewrite passages I take from the Internet.
I help students identify a writing style that suits them by
demonstrating how to write different types of beginnings:
a funnel, thesis statement, attention grabber and anecdote.
I show students how to use quotes to support their position.
I do this with all my classes, at every level. I never assume
anyone else has taught students about plagiarism and I never
assume that preceding lessons on plagiarism have stuck. Once
teachers have laid down the law about plagiarism, the next
step is to monitor students work. Students should be
forewarned that most teachers can recognise an individual
students style of writing very quickly. It only takes
a couple of in-class writing assignments to assess the writing
level of your students and you dont have to be an English
teacher to have that skill!
Students should also be warned how easy it is to check for
plagiarism on the Internet. All you have to do is plug in
a few key words from an essay and voila! You can trace the
origin of the essay.
The biggest misconception students seem to have about the
writing process is that teachers want to feel that everything
in an essay belongs lock, stock and barrel to a student. Because
they have this misconception, they often plagiarise to try
to pass off an entire essay as original thinking. Students
need to know that what is most important is the focus of the
essaythe thesis statementand the quality of the
Generally, teachers dont look for essays that only include
students opinions. Were looking for a position
that has support and if students can find support for their
ideas, that only strengthens their arguments. In other words,
we want to see some good quotes, credited to reputable sources.
Students also need to know that paraphrasing means more than
changing a couple of prepositions in a sentence. It means
putting information into your own words. Its probably
best to read something and then try to write it in your own
words without looking back while youre writing it. Afterwards,
you can check your paraphrases against the original source
to make sure you havent accidentally repeated key phrases.
Teachers can spend endless hours trying to track down plagiarism.
Ive cut down my hunting time by requiring my students
to write their essays in class. This helps students to get
used to timed essays that are a part of their lives from SEA
to CXC and SAT. It also allows me to interact with my students
while theyre writing. I can see when theyre having
problems and they can articulate their problems with me while
theyre writing. Its a fast, easy way to straighten
out writing difficulties and ensure original thinking.
Theres really no benefit in sending students home to
write their essays if they have writing problems. Theyll
either cheat and get help from someone or plagiarise.
Plagiarism is clearly a problem that teachers must address
so that we can maximise the full creative potential of our
students. If were on the road to academic success we
need original thinkersnot a generation of students who
think stealing is all right once it pertains only to intellectual