The Academic Honesty Unit

Academic honesty, *sigh*. It's always been an issue, but when even more student work became digital, and all of it done at home, there was surely a spike in students not doing their own academic work. I've written before about how teachers can detect plagiarism, but how do we stop it before it even starts?

There is no magical answer that will make all of your students academically honest, but it does take more than plagiarism checkers and harsh penalties. Our students need an education about what academic honesty is. Many don't know what is and is not considered cheating. Several years ago my 9th grade team swapped out our normal end of the year unit, and replaced it with a unit about academic honesty. If we are going to hold our students to high academic standards, and expect them to meet those, then we need to educate them about what that means. 

Sample section of the survey

We began with a survey. Near the end of the school year our students are often surveyed about a variety of things from the district and the state, so we tossed on a survey about academic honesty. They had no idea it was related to the unit we were about to start. It probably has too many questions, and every year I take some away. Some are a little ambiguous, so if you are using it I encourage you to make edits to the form. 

We followed that with several readings about academic honesty, and applied the reading strategies and analysis writing we had done with other units. It was good to practice those skills once more at the end of the year and it also caused students to really think about these articles. We included an infographic for more practice interpreting data, and did a jigsaw of even more articles about incidents of academic dishonesty. 

When students were well versed in the perils and magnitude of cheating around the country, we gave them back their own data from the survey that we started with. All the teachers on the team shared the same survey, so there were hundreds of student responses. We learned the difference between quantitative data and qualitative data. Students wrote short descriptions about what the data was telling them. We gave them frames for writing about data. (The book They Say I Say was hugely helpful.) It's not easy for a 9th grader to write a sentence like 'Of the 56% of students who said they had cheated this school year, over 95% said they had cheated on homework, and 50% even said they had cheated on a test.' We find that students even have trouble understanding that this does not mean that 95% of their classmates have cheated on homework. Explaining that the 95% is only a subset of the 56% who admitted to cheating, is always challenging. (I'm guesstimating these percentages, but they are close to what the real data usually shows.) So our students are getting a chance to talk and write about real data that they are personally invested in. At first I just gave them the graphs, copied from the summary of responses page on the survey form, but then I switched to making more actionable slides to have student partners write about their interpretations of the data. 

Actionable slides to analyze data.

And then we get to my favorite part. By now students know a lot about academic honesty. They know it's an issue at our school. They know the myriad causes of it. They have strong opinions about what to do about it. They are ready. We give them a lot of choice in their final project. It's a bit like a restaurant that lets you customize everything about your ramen bowl, broth, noodles, toppings, etc. Our students choose their audience, their message, and their format. They can even choose their partners, or work alone. 

Some choose to make a video to tell parents to care about more than just grades. Some write an open letter to our admin team asking them to be tougher on students who cheat. Some make posters and go talk to middle school students about how cheating can hurt you in high school. Some make an infographic to hang in the copy room where other teachers can learn more about the kinds of assignments that lead to cheating. Some create instagram accounts just about spreading the word to their peers that cheating will hurt you in life. 

See what I mean about choice. In all of their projects they are required to cite their sources, use at least one source from our readings, use at least some of our class survey data, and give acknowledgements to anyone who helped them with their project. 

The top part of the project assignment page

If you haver read this far you are very invested in teaching your students more about academic honesty. Here is a doc with links to all the things I've talked about this post and more. Everything should be set to give you view access or force you to make a copy. (Note that this doc is shared with an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons License. If I find you selling any of it on TPT or anywhere else, I will hunt you down and accidentally spill a full cup of coffee on you.) But please feel free to share it with colleagues, use it with students, and even tweet or talk about it. Links to this post and credit to myself and my team are highly recommended. 

Does this make our students more academically honest in 10th grade? Hard to say. There are a lot of factors that impact cheating after all, but at least our students can't say they didn't know that copying something from the internet and changing words until their plagiarism checker says it's undetectable, is still cheating. 

I'd love to know if you and your team are using this unit. I'd love to hear about how you've improved it and how it impacted your students. If you have questions I'm just a tweet away @JenRoberts1.

This post is dedicated to all the teachers about to reenter classrooms in the fall of 2021. I see you. I hope this helps.