The Cheating Art

24 Jan

If you teach, you will have encountered cheating.  And if you’re honest, you’ve probably cheated yourself at some point in the past – I don’t remember specific incidences of cheating from when I was at school, but I do remember attempting to ask my classmates for answers, little slips of paper in pencil cases and writing the answers out onto rulers and the insides of pencil cases, hands, wrists and arms.  I also remember that hunched over posture, arm wrapped all the way round the test paper, to guard against someone cheating off you…

Ann Loseva has just written a great post on the impact the accusation of cheating can have.  This prompted Graham Stanley to reflect on encounters with plagiarism and cheating he has had as a teacher and to investigate the cheating culture.  Both of which have inspired this post and a lesson that I ran with some CAE (Advanced) classes yesterday.  The lesson outline follows at the bottom of this post.

One of the things I tried to do in the lesson was to gather some informal data on how prevalent cheating is.  In percentage terms, it makes interesting reading, though as I occasionally asked for a show of hands the validity and reliability of the study is questionable!

  • 100% of my students said they had cheated on a test.
  • 53% said they thought it was OK to cheat on a class test.
  • 0% said it was OK to cheat on a formal exam
  • 60% said they thought cheating was culturally acceptable in their country

I’ve heard different theories for this last statistic.  One is that Catholic countries are more tolerant of cheating because these are minor sins that can be absolved and penance performed for following confession.  Another is that people who live or have lived under more authoritarian regimes have a greater need to understand how to “game the system”, in other words, cheating is a necessary life skill.

My students thought both these ideas were rubbish, though one student did point out you are more likely to break the rules if you think the rules are wrong and where you have absolutely no respect for your national leaders and politicians, this lack of respect may extend to the rules the government enforces.  This also filters down to the classroom – when the students have little or no respect for the teacher, they do not value the lesson content as much and equally see no point in attempting to perform well on their tests.  My little survey certainly seemed to suggest that the more seriously they view a test, the more effort they put into preparing for it and the less likely they are to cheat in it.

The seriousness with which they view their tests also comes from how much value they perceive the test to have.  There are tests they are given because the system demands it – neither the students nor the teacher value them and they are treated as a formality.  Students told me stories about their teachers “monitoring” during the tests and pointing out incorrect answers, telling students the answers under the cover of fake cough.  One student told me “I cheat when, it’s like I understand the topic or something and I know it but the test wants answers I don’t know.” – essentially, when the test is testing the reproduction of knowledge rather than any deeper level of understanding.

What worries me most, though, and which sums up the cheating issue in a nutshell is the feeling that they all agreed with:  “it’s easier than thinking.”  How do you combat that?  Seriously – any and all answers gratefully received!

Two ways that suggest themselves:  (1) Zero Tolerance and (2) Better Invigilation.

There does have to be a policy decision somewhere near the top of the academic tree about what is acceptable and what is not within school walls.  Personally it annoys me when I see students frantically copying each others’ homework right before class because it defeats the purpose of setting the homework in the first place – I’d rather they were late with it – but that’s the sort of thing I let slide.  But I have struggled to impose any kind of test discipline (for example, no talking during tests – there’s always someone who makes some kind of comment!) – mostly because it simply isn’t considered part of test protocol here.  There’s a sort of “don’t ask / don’t tell” situation – the policy against cheating is theoretically zero tolerance, but only as long as you don’t have to put it into practice…

Better invigilation:  in theory I’m sure we all agree that no teacher should invigilate their own students (or subjects) and that invigilators should be doing absolutely nothing other than monitoring the exam room for the duration of the test.  In practice however, this is unlikely to happen in all testing situations.  But a teacher who is marking, lesson planning or doing the crossword is not invigilating – they are increasing the opportunity for students to cheat.  If schools and institutions are serious about reducing or stamping out cheating – invigilation policy is certainly a good starting point.

References (my lesson plan follows below the picture):

The Lesson I did with my classes:

(1) A letters circle ( A C E H T) on the board – students make as many words from the letters as they can in a minute.  Feedback: did you get the five letter words TEACH / CHEAT?

(2) Quick Poll:  (This was done quite conversationally and involved some definition of terms on both sides – what constitutes cheating / the difference between a test and an exam etc)

  • Have you ever cheated on a test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a class test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a formal exam?
  • Is cheating culturally acceptable in your country?

(3) Split reading:  I divided the class into two groups:  Group A got Ann’s article and Group B got Graham’s article.  They read their article and in their groups had to come up with a comment they would write under the blog article.

Then I paired one student from group A with one from group B and they summarised what they’d read for each other and discussed whether having read the articles would change their views or behaviour as regards cheating.

(4) Lexical mining:  Each pair had to find two or three words / collocations / expressions that they either (a) thought would be useful, or (b) liked the sound of, or (c) didn’t know.  These were collected on the board (each pair had a board pen) and in small groups they peer taught what they could, working it out from context.  I then filled in any gaps.

(5) I then gave student a handout with the following questions from The Internet TESL Journal:  (you may wish to edit these for your cultural context).

  • What is your definition of cheating?
  • Have you ever cheated?
  • Why do you think that people cheat?
  • Have you ever cheated in an exam?
  • Have you ever been caught cheating on an exam?
  • If you had a chance to cheat now, would you take it?
  • In what situations do people usually cheat?
  • Have you ever been cheated on by somebody else?
  • Describe a time when you cheated and it helped you.
  • Do you think if people stopped cheating the world would be a better place?
  • What do you think of people who cheat in their relationships?
  • What do you think can be done to prevent cheating?
  • What are some things you can do to prevent cheating?
  • What would you do it you saw someone cheating at something.

The students made notes individually on their own answers and then came together into two larger groups to share and discuss their responses.

That took pretty much the whole lesson (75 minutes) – with more time I would have done some reactive language feedback on correction following that final discussion, but we can do that next time!

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2 Responses to “The Cheating Art”

  1. annloseva Saturday 1 February 2014 at 18:43 #

    Hello David

    It took me long to comment, sorry for this. This is a great post which I enjoyed a lot for various reasons which I”d like to mention below.

    – I can be quite honest and say that I sure can remember myself cheating and I can give all the reasons for these cases. And I remember one moment especially vividly – when during a very important test (written part of my first exam at university, with a notoriously fierce examiner) my neighbour was trying to look into my paper and instead I was caught. With a huge red mark on my paper that followed. That was unpleasant and unfair (to my sensitive self of that time). Luckily during oral part I could prove not guilty))

    – I’ve found very interesting (and real) your stats on cheating being culturally acceptable. This is true for my country in every, every single way and sector and aspect. To my great regret and absolute lack of understanding (needless to mention my no-compliance with this!!).

    – I was surprised to learn my writing was used with students in a class. This is very flattering. Thank you. I wonder what your students could learn from me this way))

    Thanks for this post and the lesson plan shared! I never expected my thoughts during watching the interview lead to this.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I hated that fellow (c) C.G. Jung | Ann Loseva's Space - Friday 24 January 2014

    […] The Cheating Art – a blog post with a lesson plan, by David Petrie […]

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