Thursday, January 7, 2010

Academic Integrity

Before I start this post, I want to give a shout out to @ktenkely for giving me the idea to write this post. We were exchanging tweets about a silly parent encounter and this topic came up as one I should post. So, thanks to her and all of her hard work organizing Ed bloggers from around the world. (Side Note: A typed in bloggers in the text box and I'm being told it's not a word. Don't you think Blogging software should recognize Bloggers as a word. Hmmmmm.) Anyway, thanks to her and the other Tweeters out there that are fueling the Edu blogging fires!

As an English teacher, one of the biggest topics I cover at the start of the year is the concept of plagiarism. In my youth, copying information out of an encyclopedia was where the biggest offenders would go for their information. Today, the information is all over the world and accessed with a few clicks of the mouse. I'll spend some time in later posts about great software and programs that can be used to check work for un-cited materials. For now, I have a document our district uses that ensures that all students, and parents, know what Plagiarism is and what the consequences are if they are caught.

Student Pledge of Academic Integrity

Below you will find the text of the sheet I hand out to the students on the first day of school. It is the first assignment they receive and I will not accept any other work from them until they take this sheet home and sign it with their parents. They bring it back and I make a copy. I keep the original and give them the copy. Now everybody has a copy of the form. (This part is really important later on!)The threat of not accepting any work for the rest of the year seems to work with my students. The pledge can be used for an entire school year (Like I do.), it can be used once per marking period, it can be used once per semester, or it can be used for every essay a student submits. I prefer to use it once at the start of the year and file it away and hopefully never have to look at it until the end of the year when I shred and recycle. Feel free to edit the text and share with other teachers. After looking at the form, I will share a fun little story that started this post.

Student Pledge of Academic Integrity

Students in (Place your Class, School or District name here.) sign a pledge of academic integrity confirming that the assignments they submit are their own creation. The Pledge certifies that if research is included in a student's submitted assignment, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, verses, charts, tables, graphics, etc that are taken from another writer or another source, whether quoted or paraphrased, are properly credited to the creator following documentation rules found in (Name the source of your documentation rules. We use MLA Citation.).


  • to use and attempt to pass off as one's own, the ideas or writings of another
  • to appropriate for the use of one's own, passages or ideas from another
  • to plagiarize the ideas or words of another
Plagiarism is inappropriate, never acceptable, and always a very serious academic offense. If you ever have any doubt about the integrity of your completes assignment or the correctness of your documentation of sources, ask your teacher before submitting the work. 

IMPORTANT: Plagiarizing another student's work is just as unacceptable as plagiarizing a professional writer's work. Likewise, having someone else write your assignment, in full or in part, for a fee or at no charge, is also defines as plagiarism and is subjected to the same serious penalties.

According to the (Place your Class, School or District Code of Conduct here. Your penalties are your decision, but this is what we have.) Code of Conduct, the penalty for plagiarism is loss of credit for the assignment, possible temporary separation from school (Currently, the student receives a 1 day in school suspension.) and, depending upon the seriousness of the case, an additional academic penalty up and including potential loss of credit for the marking period. (Currently, if a student has a 2nd offense at any point during the rest of their time at school, it results in a longer suspension and loss of credit for the marking period. We have never had to deal with a 3rd strike victim, but it is supposed to be loss of credit for the semester.) The penalty will be determined by school administration in consultation with the student and the teacher. Community service may also be required. (I have never seen this put into action, but it seems to scare the kids when I discuss in in class.)

(Below is the part the students read and sign with their parents.)

I understand the concept of academic integrity and the penalties I will suffer if I violate the (Place your Code of Conduct here.) Code of Conduct. I hereby pledge that the written work I submit is my own creation and that all inclusions in it from other writer or sources is properly documented.

___________________     _______________      __________
Student's Printed Name       Course Title                Date

___________________________          ____________________
Student Signature                                   Parent Signature

Again, some teachers like to have students submit the last signed part fr every assignment they turn in. I use (I will sing the praises of this site at a later date.), so every essay is submitted electronically. Having a student turn in a signed paper for assignment seems a bit tedious, but feel free to reinforce the concepts as much as you need to.

The Story

No matter how many times you tell students that you will not catch everyone that tries to teach, you will catch some of them. Even when I tell students that they will be submitting their work to a website designed to catch students that cut and paste from other websites without proper citations, they will still try and beat the system.

I had given students an assignment for To Kill a Mockingbird. They were to write an opinion piece on Dill and submit it to It is a very simple assignment that required the kids to discuss the character and how they fit into the story. Well, on student thought that it would be easier to get their opinion from Wikipedia. The website detected the similarities and showed the plagiarism. I printed up the report, attached it to a write up from and handed it to the administrator. I have to do this about once or twice a year and didn't think much about it until the administrator emailed me a day later to say the parents wanted to have a meeting regarding the "alleged" plagiarism. Great, a parent and administrator meeting at the same time. Those are always fun. I wasn't worried though, I had the plagiarism report and it could not be I thought.

During my prep hour (Because that's a teacher's "free time".), I met with the parents and the administrator to discuss the problem and showed them the report that said over 30% of his paper was taken from other sources that were not cited. Not only was this plagiarism, but he didn't need to use other sources because it was supposed to be his personal opinion. (Warning! This part may cause you to spit whatever it is you are drinking out because of the ridiculous factor. If you like your computer screen and keyboard, please swallow now!) The parent looked at the report and their student's work and asked if I could just grade him on the 70% of the work they completed! (Please do not do what I did if this happens to you.) I actually chuckled because I thought she was kidding. Sadly, she was not amused that I was amused.

After assuring the parent I was not trying to ruin their student's academic life, they told me that they were unaware of the consequences for plagiarism and that they were to harsh for such a minor offense. 30% of an assignment should not receive 100% of the punishment. Yup, that was said. I wanted to smile, but I didn't and took out the pledge the student and parent had signed and passed it across the table. The period was about to be over, so I told the administrator that I had to get back to my classroom and that I would be happy to discuss this matter more at a later date.

There was no later date.

This is the only time this has become an issue for me, but it was nice to have the sheet. I joked with other teachers that the parent had no choice to admit to signing the form because if they hadn't, their kid would be busted for forging a parent signature on an official school document. It's win win.

If you would like an electronic copy of our Pledge, drop me a line and I'll send one your way.