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Topic: A Classroom Where No One Cheats
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
A Classroom Where No One Cheats
Posted: Dec 13, 2013 5:15 PM
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From The Atlantic, Thursday, December 12, 2013. See
A Classroom Where No One Cheats

A new book says it's possible-but only if teachers get their students
to care about learning for learning's sake.

By Jessica Lahey

When I catalog my personal top ten list of teaching failures, the
first spot always goes to the same offense: cheating. The times I've
caught the eye of a student whose glance has wandered on to a
classmate's test. When I've compared two identical, oddly misspelled
answers two different quizzes. When I've found a sentence in an essay
that doesn't feel right and a quick search of the internet locates
that same sentence in an published article. Oh, and the fallout:
denials, tears, parents who insist, "My child simply would never do
that sort of thing."

While I'd love to place the blame for this offense fully on my
students' shoulders, I can't. My teaching methods and classroom
habits are often as much to blame as their response to them. If my
teaching practices create an atmosphere in which students resort to
cheating rather than rely on their own hard work and discovery, I'm
doing something wrong.

Eradicating cheating from a classroom is a remarkably difficult task.
Cheating is a many-headed hydra: Cut one offense off, and another one
bursts forth in its place. Teachers struggle to keep up with
students' novel and ingenious methods of academic deception, and yet
we forever remain one step behind our technologically and ethically
flexible wards. Plus, cheating taps into teachers' worst fears about
both our ability to teach and our trust in our students. I never
doubt my perceptions more than when I contemplate whether to confront
a student about suspicions of cheating. No matter how the process
shakes out, trust is broken, feelings are hurt, and everyone loses

One teacher, desperate to eradicate cheating at its source, has come
up with a theory of cheating and a plan for what he calls "The
(Nearly) Cheating-Free Classroom." In his book Cheating Lessons:
Learning from Academic Dishonesty, James M. Lang, Associate Professor
of English at Assumption College, recounts his experience with
cheating, and his personal journey to rid his classroom of its
influence. Lang undertook his research on academic dishonesty
because, "My personal experiences with cheating were probably a lot
like yours: students occasionally cheated in my classes, it baffled
and frustrated me, and I was never sure how to react." Lang turned to
the available research on cheating, searching for ways to fight back.

When Lang looked into the data on who cheats, and how often, the
numbers varied widely. As most of the studies on cheating rely on
student self-reporting, cheating statistics depend on students' and
researchers shared understanding of the definition of cheating, and
that's a high hurdle to clear. In one study, in which respondents
were given clear definitions of academically dishonest behaviors,
such as "writing a paper for another student," or "copying answers
from a text or other source instead of doing the work independently,"
75 percent of students admitted to at least one of the pre-defined
cheating behaviors over the course of their college career-an
uncomfortably large percentage.

After clearly identifying the problem, Lang presents his solutions
for combatting the cheating epidemic:

First, teachers should be focused on encouraging mastery rather than
performance on assessments. When Lang looked at research on how
teacher's goals for their students influence cheating, he found that
there are two types of learners, mastery- and performance-oriented.
According to Lang, mastery-oriented students "pursue understanding,"
whereas performance-oriented students hope to "demonstrate their
ability." When students are more focused on their grade point average
than the material they are supposed to be learning, they are much
more likely to cheat. Worse, when students compete with each other
around grades, they are far more likely to put their energy into
demonstrating their ability than to pursue their own individual
understanding of the material. If we want to curb student cheating,
we should be aiming higher than the carrot and stick of grades and
assessments and engage our students in learning for learning's sake.
SIDEBAR: Related Story -- What Does It Take to Get Kids to Stop
Skipping School? See
This relates to another cause of cheating, in Lang's view:
high-stakes testing. According to Lang, "The more pressure you load
onto an exam or assessment of any kind, the more you are likely to
have students who respond to that pressure with academically
dishonest measures." We all yearn to be seen as competent and smart,
but when the consequences of one assessment can means the difference
between graduation and flipping burgers at minimum wage, the
temptation to cheat can overwhelm the better angels of our otherwise
morally stalwart nature.

Another factor that affects cheating is self-efficacy-as Lang puts
it, when students have "a belief in their ability to succeed." Lang
reports that students with low self-efficacy "are more likely to
resort to cheating." This is where a teacher's attitude and approach
to education really becomes a vital part of a student's success. Kids
need to feel that someone - anyone - believes in them, even when they
don't believe in themselves. Self-efficacy, according to Lang, means
"students have to believe that they have the skills or knowledge
necessary to succeed on the task" and "they have to believe that when
they sit down to complete that task, they will be able to do so."
I've taught students who drove me up the wall with their lack of
effort and casual disregard for learning, only to figure out that
they were waiting for me to prove that I had faith in their potential.

Even in the toughest cases, teachers need to find opportunities to
praise student effort. One such student, whose stubborn refusal to do
any work in my class morphed into a career favorite when he handed me
just such an opportunity in the form of a thoughtful essay, and from
that moment on, our relationship shifted from one of mutual
frustration to mutual respect.

In order to earn our place at the front of a cheating-free classroom,
educators are going to have to own our share of the blame for the
atmosphere of high-stakes testing and extrinsic rewards that we've
created. Cheating is not solely the fault of our students or the
declining ethical standards of the millennial generation, but a
product of our testing-oriented and performance-obsessed culture. The
American educational system should focus on the handing down of
knowledge and skills rather than test preparation and administration.
The same conditions that encourage cheating discourage our students'
mastery of content and skills, while we waste our time attempting to
catch cheaters in the act of deception, we are distracted from our
higher goal: catching students in the act of learning.

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