Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Teaching Plagiarism Early: A Lesson Plan

Today, I’m going to pick on a sixth grader for plagiarism. Actually, I’m going to pick on her parents, teachers and school principal for teaching her that plagiarism is okay. Here’s how they did it..

This morning’s Our Town front page is anchored with little news story that's a "letter" from a local sixth-grader who wants to raise money to attend something called Junior National Young Leaders Conference.

After reading the organization’s Web site, I think it sounds like a class trip to Washington, D.C., styled as a “learning opportunity” – not bad, but clearly smelling of someone’s tour-operation. But that’s not today's lesson.

The organization charges students almost $2,000 in “tuition” and fees and requires payment in advance. To help kids cut the check, the organization hands potential participants an 11-page Fund Raising Guide. Page seven is titled "Sample Fundraising Letter."

Our local Young Leader filled in the blanks of this pre-written letter and her teacher, principal and parents sent it to the newspaper. The newspaper editors put a “byline” and photo at the top of the story – based, I’m sure, on the letter’s signature.

Every one of this Young Leader’s teachers and parents missed the teaching moment.

The lesson they might have taught is the sample letter is just that, a sample, a model for the child’s own composition. The sample shows what information might be appropriate to include in a letter begging money from strangers. It’s a good place to discuss what the child might like to put in her own letter – in her own words. But no one in this child's life did that with her.

Instead, her teachers and parents taught this future leader that it's okay to copy instead of doing her own work. Teachers and parents taught their star pupil that it’s better to reproduce a grown-up’s letter than find her own voice. Teachers and parents showed the youngster how to put her own name to words and sentences that she copied from a prepared document.

Every one of her role models did a perfect job of teaching the child they are raising about effective plagiarism in one easy lesson that will surely stay with her for the rest of her life -- particularly if she manages to raise $2000 in the process.

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