Thursday, September 10, 2009

Five Ways to Stop Cheating

1. Having problems with plagiarism? Try this: Have your students write their rough drafts during class; and then post them. I should back-track. In my class, all students have their own blog. So when I give them an assignment, I have them post it online in draft and final form. Posting rough drafts both cuts down on plagiarism (which is often the result of lack of guidance) and gets students into the habit of re-working their writing.

2. Having problems with Scantron cheating? Try this: Don't give Scantron tests. I'm a firm believer that multiple choice tests were invented by pencil manufacturers. I mean, really now, can you give me any example of a pre-industrial teacher giving a multiple choice test? Yet we think of it as a "traditional" model of assessment. Insanity. Could you imagine Socrates giving Plato a Scantron test? No, you can't. Because that would be ridiculous. Yet many of us continue to give these tests to our kids every week.

3. Having problems with students cutting and pasting from the Internet? Try this: Have students write short essays that are completely cut-and-pasted. Then have them trade essays with classmates. The assignment is to identify where each of the cut-and-pasted parts come from and to give an assessment of the site or page from which each source was stolen. Because kids aren't going to understand that cutting and pasting doesn't get them anywhere until they start understanding just how bad the essays at really are and why encyclopedias are not considered primary sources.

4. Having problems with students using cellphones, Twitter, and IM in class to cheat on tests? Try this: Require them to use cellphones, Twitter, and/or IM during tests. I started opening up all of my tests last year. I basically allowed students to collaborate with one another whenever they wanted to using Twitter. And guess what? Across the board, student understanding of the material went up. It's not that their test scores improved whereas everyone was now cheating their way to an 'A'; in fact, the scores remained pretty similar in terms of the ratio across the student population. Rather, students who had been having trouble -- whether due to test anxiety or little mistakes that snowballed -- were now getting beyond those problems and beginning to demonstrate what they knew rather than what they didn't know. And before long, they were able to use Twitter as a lifeline rather than as a crutch.

5. Stop giving tests. The number one reason kids cheat is because of the amount of importance we assign to tests. Why do we do this to ourselves? Outside of school, how often do kids face tests set up like the ones they take in school? This year, I've instituted a new grading policy: no tests. Instead, kids earn points for blogging, bookmarking, and developing their own projects. All the stuff I used to assess by tests, I'm assessing in class in a no-anxiety formative way. And so the kids don't cheat. Because to cheat in my class would be like trying to cheat in pottery class.


  1. Excellent advice, thank you!

    I don't actually set many "tests" at all for my English language classes, but it does sadden me that so many students plagiarise even creative writing tasks. I'll definitely bear your advice in mind in the future, thanks!

  2. Here's where I'd just like a little more clarification. I see the "Outside of school, how often do kids face tests set up like the ones they take in school?" mantra used fairly often in this context. But I don't think the rhetorical question deserves its rhetorical status. I took a part-time job at a Big Box store last spring and I took 4 multiple choice tests within my first 3 weeks of working there. It really made me wonder how often these kinds of tests *really are* used outside of education. When I was a waiter during college, I had to take a T/F test over the menu before I could begin waiting tables.

    Please don't read into this as me saying that we should use these types of tests. I'm not. I'm just saying that the "they're not used in 'real life'" argument may not be as valid as we think. Or it could be that the two-of-the-very-few non-education jobs I've had are just weird.

  3. While I do believe that tests in general are very arbitrary and also sort-of pointless, I also see that formal tests do hold a place in education and the world beyond. Students, as well as adults, need to realize that sometimes there are arbitrary tests/exams that need to be passed.

    One easy example: when working in retail, there are audits which are very arbitrary and often have not much to do with actual store performance, but instead it simply nit-picks at useless paperwork. However, if the manager and the employees do not understand the importance of the audit score (a bad score can shut down your store), then the store will be in jeopardy. And while the score is arbitrary and while the audit is really sort-of useless, people must understand that when you are an employee, jobs/chores may be passed down all the time in which you find no value except to complete it. Tests in school implicitly teach children this skill of being able to put up with and understand the point of useless paperwork, weird jobs, and overall other arbitrary diatribes involved in certain jobs.

  4. Unfortunately, the outside world has not changed all that much in terms of people having to take standardized-type of tests. To sign up with the National Guard, candidates need to take a battery of aptitude tests. What about SAT's, still used by most colleges as a way to admit students and award scholarship money? Both of my sons, one in DePaul and one in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, still take objective tests. In an elective class on the history of poker at SAIC, my son took an objective test that just about failed him because he would rather do creative projects than study for tests. So, although, I do believe that once people are in the careers of their dream and doing project-based work for the most part, the path to these ultimate careers probably includes many traditional tests.

  5. I love the idea of not giving formal tests. I agree that there are much more efficient ways to gauge student’s knowledge. By allowing them to complete projects as opposed to formal testing, they will gain a better understanding, as opposed to memorizing the material and giving it right back to you in a test. Having the student’s blog is an interesting idea, and I can see how it would work. In using technology they would be excited, and I can see it being very successful. This is something that I would like to try in a classroom, because I think it produce good results. Anyone one else try this? How exactly does it work?

  6. Okay, so I get the point of most of your commentary, but Socrates or Plato did not have 160 plus students in a 50 minute a day setting. So I don't see that as an accurate comparison. I agree that our educational system places too much value on testing, and I try to minimize the stress about the tests I give and place it on the thinking that occurs to prepare them for showing their understanding on the test.

    You are fortunate that you work in a school that obviously embraces technology in all of its forms. Most teachers do not.

  7. I disagree with many of your statements. What's to prevent a student from posting a plagiarized rough draft on his/her blog (or one written by someone else). Also, not giving tests is not feasible, in the sense that less people are able to cheat on tests than on homework (or other forms of evaluation where they're not supervised)

    See for some other ways to stop cheating which I feel would be more effective.

    ~ Sam

  8. Interesting thoughts on stopping cheating... I want to re-read these later and reflect a little more on them. Certainly food for thought though, thank you. New reader, enjoying so far.

  9. Very interesting. Made me think. Of course, most schools are going in the opposite direction with arcane ideas like "same day, same page" teaching across their staff. The "common assessment" idea is really just a way for administration to check on teachers. But, it does handcuff an awful lot of educators who don't have the flexibility or the support to be creative. Great ideas. Thanks

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