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Why some Students need to Plagiarize

Critical Thinking and Ontario Schools

A recent student of ours was caught copying the main information in their essay from various dubious internet sources. We found this upsetting on many levels. One disheartening aspect of this situation is that beyond the dishonesty the student did not truly comprehend their reasons for the plagiarism. They didn’t take the time to think about the question the teacher asked. I feel that in this particular case, it was a lack of critical thinking that made cheating seem like an easier choice.

The student spent this time looking to others to answer their questions. It is always disappointing to us teachers as we would like to see our students confident enough in their abilities to write and critically approach the questions that they are given in the classroom. We rather a student critically think about the task at hand.

It is not just about getting a good grade. In Ontario, students are expected to graduate ready for post-secondary education and the workforce. Students should have values, ethics, be ready to participate and question the the world that they are discovering. In some education systems, this is not necessarily the model being followed.

We consider it a blessing to be able to interact with our students from across the globe everyday. If follows that, we are teaching the Ontario curriculum and a more Canadian way of approaching learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning is studied in teaching foundation courses is applied to all coursework. The ability to learn through rote (memorizing facts) is useful but for university and the workplace of the future, critical thinking skills are essential.

What is critical Thinking?

Critical literacy goes beyond decoding and understanding texts. It is a way of thinking that challenges the inherent meaning of information and by extension life situation. It leads to understanding of power relationships that may help students to perceive and take action against injustice. (1) Googling a discussion question for an online class and posting someone else’s response indicates to the teacher that the student sees themselves as more of a consumer of information rather than someone who could connect and create their own information.

When looking at the four levels of the achievement chart (the content standards used for achievement evaluation of all courses levels grades 1 to grade 12), the should not overlook the section of Application. Application is “The Use of Knowledge and skills to make connections within and between various contexts”. A high grade in a course suggests that at some level the student was able to prove that they were able to critically connect to aspects of the curriculum of a given course.

Creativity & Self- Reflection

Students are encouraged to use metacognition of their skills and self-reflect on their process of learning.

These type of questions can be:

  • How are my skills in this area?
  • Which areas am I weak?
  • How can I solve this problem?
  • What do I need to learn to do better in this activity?

Relying on rote learning can also lead to test anxiety for students. There is a fear that they would “draw a blank” when the task demands recalling details. By focussing more on critical thinking, using creativity and knowing one’s strengths, study can be focussed and enhance confidence. There are some studies to suggest that technology based learning provides more independence with students and consequently, supports critical thinking. Contrary to some traditional belief, creative thinkers are not lazy and less accomplished. Creative thinkers will approach a situation in a new and interesting way. It is an indispensable skill when solving problems. (Lim, Chai)

How to build our critical thinking skills

  • Ask questions! When answering a question given in class- go beyond the answer and also answer “Why does this matter”? “What are different ways that I can answer this?”
  • Consider the context – “How would communities with various perspectives consider this question differently?” “Which viewpoints are omitted in the information given? Why? Is that a problem? ”
  • Be humble. Sometimes the way we are accustomed to thinking could be modified and should be open to new perspectives especially with reasonable and trustworthy evidence.

The internet is a wonderful place to learn, but be wise. Avoiding repeating someone else’s ideas is an important place to start. Get to know yourself and applying critical thinking to your activities to become not only a better student, but to also creates a safer community at school. It will prepare you to also a better citizen of the world.