When I read my colleague Craig Polzen’s blog post on copyright I was interested to hear how his favourite track, Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys was created by the mixing of over 100 different artists. Wow I thought, that’s insane! You would have thought that by the time we reached adulthood, we would have understood the fact that ‘copying’ someone’s idea and taking it as our own, was actually not only not cool, but wrong! Apparently not if you are familiar with the controversy surrounding the 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and Pharrrell. If top of their game musicians who are today’s role models for many of our younger generation are blatantly ignoring copyright laws, as educators we are surely obligated to highlight these flaws and introduce the ‘smart’ choice to our young learners so they can avoid similar paths.
It’s a nonfiction unit and my grade 2 students were researching information on an animal of their choice. We were working on text features and summarizations skills. I often found myself saying, “Don’t forget, write it in your own words.” I would look over at the text they were actually working from, then remind myself that this might be a tricky task – the page had only 2 – 4 sentences about the body parts of a leopard. I am currently working with Grade 5 students, and of course whilst the reading and writing skills have since matured, the skill of ‘writing in your own words’ is still a challenging one for them to learn.
Kids working on research projects have always copied chunks from books. When will we get to the point as educators when addressing this is no longer necessary? Speaking to some of my high school colleagues – it seems never! It’s a hard skill to learn, ‘to be true to’ and apparently, one that many students struggle to really grasp and value the importance of, even in their final year when writing internal assessments and essays. Students have deadlines to meet, so let’s just copy, paste and get this done. Teachers in my high school use the website Turnitin.com to help combat plagarisum issues. It is used across all subject levels and grade levels and supports academic integrity.
According to their website, unoriginal work decreases by 33 % and students are encouraged to think more critically. Yet this is not just an issue for high school, copying directly from the textbook seems to be coming a thing of the past even for some of our elementary students. Today students of all ages are researching more and more online and the copy paste issue is becoming larger now that it is no longer contained to some paper on a teacher’s desk. The word plagiarism is starting to be used at a very young age, mainly by accident but for sure mostly by misinformation or rather no information!
Whilst the word cheating seems a little harsh a label for an 8 year old, students are effectively doing just that! In our school, we ask students from Grade 3 – 5 to have their own personal blogs, yet we currently do not address copyright issues in context authentically in our curriculum. They have no knowledge or understanding of what plagiarism is. The Elementary’s Guide to Plagiarism defines plagiarism when someone takes another person’s thoughts or ideas and acts like they are their own. The idea of teaching plagiarism to elementary students indeed seems a little daunting to say the least but if we wish them to understand the idea of digital citizenship, this is an aspect we need to address. When researching I discovered there are some great tools out there, already developed, that look to be engaging and appropriate.
Kidshealth.org gives a great article in kid friendly language that any elementary teacher would be able to get their head around and open up a discussion, starting with a perfect example of a kid plagarising from a book. The website jointhecteam gives several hands on copyright learning projects covering KG1 – Gr 5. They state that their activities are “designed to raise copyright awareness and build respect for intellectual property.” This lesson provides a short teacher’s guide, a class presentation and follow-up suggestions. The find of the tech century for me is the website Common Sense Education, due to their teacher/student explanations. It has a mini unit for Grades 3 -4, titled Whose Is It Anyway. It teaches students to recognise plagiarism, understand the consequences and introduces proper ways to cite people’s words and ideas
from the internet. The elementary Brainpop has an informative video on plagiarism with additional quizzes and related activities. There is stuff out there, and I think it’s just a taster that we need to give our students at this early age. A short video from Brocklibrary gives just enough of this learning to hit the message home. Understanding, detecting and being aware of the laws and consequences are messages that can be clearly received by students. We don’t want to overload our young learners with facts and a fear of posting on the web. We want to encourage the continued sharing of thoughts, ideas and creativity. By modeling, our young learners will start to hear these words, make smart choices, and follow best practise.
These lessons on paraphrasing, how to use quotes in words, how to recognise the difference between creating and ‘stealing’ ideas, will help our students and their writing across all areas of the curriculum. We are obliged to start helping students find strategies early on to avoid plagiarism issues in our lessons. It seems crazy to me not to start taking advantage of these tools that will help me to reach out and inform my students better.
PS – and thanks to Deviant Art who were the inspiration for my blog title!