Academic dishonesty in the form of plagiarism is a common occurrence in academia. Generally, most students know that cheating is inappropriate on exams and what they are really doing is hoping that they are not caught.
However, plagiarism is much more sticky and subjective offense for many students. This holds especially true for ESL students. Writing in a second language is difficult for everybody regardless of one’s background. As such, students often succumb to the temptation of plagiarism to complete writing assignments.
Many ideas are being used to reduce plagiarism. Software like turnitin do work but they lead to an environment of mistrust and an arms race between students and teachers. Other measures should be considered for dealing with plagiarism.
This post will explain how seeing writing from the perspective of a process rather than a product can reduce the chances of plagiarism in the ESL context.
Writing as a Product
In writing pedagogy, the two most common views on writing are writing as a product and writing as a process. Product writing views writing as the submission of a writing assignment that meets a certain standard is grammatically near perfection, and highly structured. Students are given examples of excellence and are expected to emulate them.
Holding to this view is fine but it can contribute to plagiarism in many ways.
- Students cannot meet the expectation of grammatical perfection. This encourages them to copy excellently written English from Google into their papers.
- Focus on grammar leads to over-correction of the final paper. The overwhelming red pen marks from the teacher on the paper can stifle a desire for students to write in fear of additional correction.
- The teacher often provides little guidance beyond providing examples. Without daily, constant feedback, students have no idea what to do and rely on Google.
- People who write in a second language often struggle to structure their thoughts because we all think much shallower in a second language with reduced vocabulary. Therefore, an ESL paper is always messier because of the difficulty of executing complex cognitive processes in a second language.
These pressures mentioned above can contribute to a negative classroom environment in which students do not really want to write but survive a course however it takes. For native-speakers, this works but is really hard for ESL students to have success.
Writing as a Process
The other view of writing is writing as a process. This approach sees writing as the teacher providing constant one-on-one guidance through the writing process. Students begin to learn how they write and develop an understanding of the advantages of rewriting and revisions. Teacher and peer feedback are utilized throughout the various drafts of the paper.
The view of writing as a product has the following advantages for avoiding plagiarism
- Grammar is slowly fixed over time through feedback from the teacher. This allows the students to make corrections before the final submission.
- Any instances of plagiarism can be caught before final submission. Many teachers do not give credit for rough drafts. Therefore, plagiarism in a rough draft normally does not affect the final grade.
- The teacher can coach the students on how to reword plagiarize statements and also how to give appropriate credit through using APA.
- The de-emphasis on perfection allows the student to grow and mature as a writer on the constant support of the teacher and peers.
- Guiding the students thought process is especially critically across cultures as communication style vary widely across the world. Learning to write for a Western academic audience requires training in how Western academics think and communicate. This cannot be picked up alone and is another reason why plagiarism is useful because the stole idea is communicated appropriately.
In a writing as a process environment, the students and teacher work together to develop papers that meet standards in the students own words. It takes much more time and effort but it can reduce the temptation of just copying from whatever Google offers.
Grammar plays a role in writing but the shaping of ideas and their communication is of upmost concern for many in TESOL. The analogy I use is that grammar is like the paint on the walls of a house or the tile on the floor. It makes the house look nice but is not absolutely necessary. The ideas and thoughts of a paper are like the foundation, walls, and roof. Nobody wants to live in a house that lacks tile or is not painted but you cannot live in a house that does not have walls and a roof.
The stress on native-like communication stresses out ESL students to the point of not even trying to write at times. With a change in view on the writing experience from product to process this can be alleviated. We should only ask our students to do what we are able to do. If we cannot write in a second language in a fluent manner how can we ask them?