The rise in the use of the Internet as a source of research material has no doubt led to an increase in plagiarism, (and not only among ESL students.) Some web sites even offer to provide students with complete essays or reports on a particular topic. While most students will be aware that lifting a whole essay is academically and intellectually dishonest, there is no such consensus on the cutting and pasting of smaller chunks of text - up to paragraph level. It is important that mainstream teachers understand the reasons why this practice may be widespread among the ESL students in their classes.
Why do ESL students plagiarize?
In my experience, plagiarism by ESL students is rarely as a result of laziness or the inability to think for themselves. If they find part of a text that conveys the information that they wish to convey or expresses the idea that they wish to express, it is not surprising that many will simply copy the passage into their own work. Some of them do not have good enough English to express themselves to their own satisfaction in their own words; or they feel they haven't been given enough time to do so. Others may believe that it is showing respect to the author if they use his or her words without changing them. Many of them have no idea that plagiarism will be regarded by most of their teachers as a kind of cheating.
What can be done to help ESL students avoid plagiarism?
There are several approaches that may help to reduce the incidence of plagiarism:
Make sure that students know the word, what it means and what the school policy is on it. At FIS the policy is stated as follows: "When a student uses the written or published work of another person, he or she must state or quote the source from which the material is taken. Any student deliberately taking someone else's idea, writing or work and passing it off as his or her own, is subject to failure on the piece of work or the term in which the work was done."
Have students practise note-taking skills. Require them to write the first draft of their reports etc. from notes without referring to the original. They can then use the original to include quotes that will help support their ideas or arguments, rather than be the sole basis of them. (In ESL writing, for example, I allow students to include phrases that they have found but do not accept complete sentences.)
Help ESL students understand that the process is often more important than the product. Particularly in the lower grades it is possible to reward (grade) an original piece of work higher than a more accomplished piece of writing that has been plagiarized.
Practice with students when and how to cite or quote, when and how to paraphrase. Show them examples in the readings they must do. Insist that they follow the guidance set out in the school's style guide.
Discuss plagiarism with students as an example of cultural differences, which include eye contact in class and responding to teachers' questions.