The stakes are high. Your powers of observance are low (that's what they think). In a world of pressures to succeed, exceed, and proceed to the right college, kids are gonna cheat.
Don't worry: not all of them. Not even most. (At least, we hope not.) But when the time comes, you want to make sure your eyes are peeled and your plan of action is set for springing.
Basically, whether it's as blatant as stealing the answers to test, or as seemingly inconsequential as leaving a pack of cookies on the shelf in aisle nine after deciding not to buy them (you know, instead of taking them back to their rightful place in aisle two), we all take shortcuts at some point.
And that, dear Shmoopers, is cheating.
Even if you have a class of students who appear honest and trustworthy from every way you look at them—remember, you can't look when your back is turned. Chances are that at some point, some of them are going to be tempted to cheat, and a few are actually going to give it a go.
Now that we've admitted the cold, hard truth to ourselves and had a good cry about it, let's get down to the things you can do to prevent cheating in your classroom.
Begin by making your policy clear. Something like:
"Cheating—whether in the form of copying from another student (with or without that student's knowledge), plagiarizing, or offering answers or information on tests or assignments that you didn't come by honestly—is unacceptable."
If you're worried they'll forget (or want to give the extra boost of preemptive guilt-tripping) you can even post that policy up in class. That way "I forgot" can never be an excuse. However you go about it, make sure your students are clear on what constitutes plagiarism, and let them know what the consequences of cheating, in any form, will be.
That involves your own set of rules, your school's plagiarism policy, and even, if you feel like bringing in the big guns, this video, in which members of the International Center for Academic Integrity give their answers to the question, "What's so important about Academic Integrity?"
Nothing like sending the kids to YouTube to add some weight to the issue.
For many students, making expectations known and talking about the importance of AI (Allen Iverson? Artificial Intelligence? No! Academic Integrity, silly) will be enough to deter them.
But for others, well…you may need to keep on reading.
Testing, Testing, 1,2,3
To prevent cheating on tests, try one or more of these strategies.
- Make sure students have plenty of opportunities to earn test grades right off the bat and to make them up if they don't do so hot the first time around. If 90% of Bobby's grade depends on his performance on one ginormous test, he may be more tempted to cheat for that passing grade. If there are many opportunities to be tested—and, in the case of a subpar performance, to make up the test or earn back credit—the lower stakes will also mean a lower urge to cheat.
- Change up tests from year to year—or even from semester to semester, class to class, or within a single class. Sound complicated? It's not. All you have to do is shift the order of questions. With multiple versions of the same test floating around, Jackie won't get much good out of looking over Jenny's shoulder for the answer to #6. And the multiple versions also means you can rotate 'em so that students won't be able to sneak the answers from an old copy that makes its way out into the world (as if you'd let that happen anyway).
- Monkey with class seating arrangements. Make sure chairs and desks are adequately spaced and staggered so that students aren't tempted (or physically able) to sneak a peek across the aisle. Additionally, on test day, you can surprise students with a random seating chart that could disrupt any planned sharing of answers. We know, crafty.
- Insist on clear desks—nothing on that surface but the test itself. That means all books, bags, backpacks, and belongings get stashed underneath the students' chairs. (With the exception of the pencil they write the test with. Duh.)
- Ban digital devices—phones, tablets, laptops, and wearable tech—from the classroom on test days. Let students know that if you see a phone (tablet, watch, etc.), it will be confiscated until the end of the period. Or, if you really want to play hardball, the owner of the device will receive a zero on the test. We know, ouch.
- Walk around the room during the test. Sure, it might imply that you don't trust the students. But you don't, now, do you? (Someone had to say it.) If you really hate the idea of walking up and down aisles, or if you simply have a bunch of grading or planning to catch up on during the test period, then think about positioning yourself at the back of the room where you can observe the students whenever you want—and as far as they know, you're observing them all the time.
- We're going to go out on a limb here: have an open-book test. No, not every time, and definitely not for the final. But if they've got an in-class essay and could benefit from glancing at the Hamlet soliloquy, or a bio test and there are just so many molecules, maybe letting them have the book—or even just an index card with the notes they can fit—will help them out in a way that will also help you out.
Consider all your testing problems solved. But what about when you're not there to stare them into submission? That's when it's time for…
The Homework Honor System
When students do work outside of class, we'd just love it if a mechanical teacher could periodically shake its head at them to make sure they're not peeking at the back of the book. When it comes to the honor system, many students internalize that glaring teacher and do good, honest, honorable work. But some will forget that watching eye the second it's out of sight. What to do?
- Do what you can to make homework assignments meaningful and essential. If students don't see the value in the homework—i.e., if it feels like busywork, if it doesn't help prepare for the test, or if it's mind-numbingly repetitive—they'll be more likely to just copy the necessary information. And last we checked, that's not exactly the definition of learning.
- Don't assign too much. If your expectation is that students complete two hours of homework for your class, and three other teachers expect the same, chances are they'll get overwhelmed and either choose what seems the most important or just panic and watch reruns of The Simpsons all night instead. By assigning stuff that gets to the point, and doesn't take an eon to do, you'll help your students be less likely to look for shortcuts—a.k.a., ways to cheat.
- Early in the year, have a few in-class assignments. If you're an ELA teacher, that means in-class writing; if you teach math, assign some problems to be completed and handed in before they head out. Same for science, foreign language, economics, etc. If you are familiar with the kind of work your students are capable of in class, you'll have a good idea of what they should be able to accomplish on their own. And if there's a huge difference? You might want to do some investigating.
- The time is gone when all you had to worry about when it came to student reports or essays was copying out of an encyclopedia. Today, there is so much information online—including complete essays, lab reports, and bears, oh my!—that finding out where your students may be copying from can be a daunting task. But the Internet is our friend, dear Shmoopers, and while it's easy for your students to search, "Term paper on Beowulf," it's just as easy for you. Even easier, if you read a student paper that seems like a departure from past work, search a phrase online and come up with its source material. Or, if you're lucky, not come up with it, because they're good kids who asked you for tutoring and would never dream of associating Beowulf with the Internet. (And neither would we. Well, for the most part.)
In an Ideal World…
…your students would be so engaged in their learning that the thought of cheating would never even cross their minds. Grades would be secondary to learning—perhaps even nonexistent?—and your students would inspire you on a daily basis with their thirst for knowledge. You'd also ride a tiger to school every day, ice cream would drip from the ceiling, and teachers would earn more than Mark Zuckerberg.
If you're reading this article, you're probably not living in this ideal world, but that doesn't mean you can't make a few changes to start shifting things in that direction. (For starters, break into the plumbing and fill the pipes with Ben and Jerry's.) But aside from that…
- De-emphasize correctness (in test answers, in hypotheses, in philosophical theories or literary analyses offered by your students, etc.), and place a larger value on engagement, effort, and risk-taking. We're not suggesting that you offer up easy A's for shoddy work or off-the-cuff guesses, here. We're just saying that a big ol' chunk of success comes from failure, and that too much emphasis on getting the one right answer to a question can stifle creativity and innovation.
- To that end, come grading time, see if you can find a way to grade students' processes as well as their final products. In other words, let them know that the way they come up with answers is as important as the answers themselves. It's much harder (and less tempting) to cheat when everything that leads up to the final essay (notes, ideas, clusters, webs, doodles) or test answer (calculations, considerations, hypotheses, textual evidence) counts as much as the end product.
All in all, most of your students are bound to follow the straight-and-narrow, but some are going to the aim for the shortcut. Your job is to show that it's actually a dead end, and the scenic route is actually worth the time.