Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.” – James E. Faust
“I would prefer even to fail with honour than win by cheating.” – Sophocles
“Do something because you really want to do it. If you are doing it just for the goal and don’t enjoy the path, then I think you are cheating yourself.” – Kalpana Chawla
Whether we like it or not, all of us, teachers are destined to have students trying to cheat in our classes. Not all of them, of course, will be prone to academic dishonesty, however, some of them will. In fact, according to the existing statistical data, almost 30 percent of elementary school pupils revealed that they had cheated and, even more disturbingly, this number grows by the time they come to high school.
And it is certainly frustrating to see that, instead of investing their time and effort in studies, they just cheat. There are different types of cheating that students can engage in plagiarism, copying, you name it. Nobody knows exactly why students continue doing it. Some of them continue doing it stubbornly. In this short article, we are going to talk about cheating and what to do about it. The main questions that we will try to answer in this article are as follows: how do talk about cheating with your students and how to prevent it from happening in your class?
Although it is not entirely clear why some students cheat, some researchers have attempted to answer this question.
Although it may be somewhat uncomfortable and even strange to start the term by talking to students about cheating, there are immense benefits to doing that – both for you and your students. It is absolutely necessary and important to provide students with clear guidelines on what consequences they will face if they decide to engage in academic dishonesty. When you talk about infractions and penalties for cheating, it will be difficult for students to shun responsibility for their own actions. They will understand or at least it will be clear to them that they have no excuse for cheating.
Be clear about the rules and consequences: for example, if a student is caught cheating once, he will get a warning, and if he continuously engages in cheating, then this may even warrant a meeting with the school’s principal.
Now, of course, even if you have delineated the rules and set the boundaries some students will still cheat. What to do in such a situation then? The good news is that you have already helped yourself a lot – by setting boundaries and rules, you have already ensured that a potential conversation about cheating with one of your students will be easier.
A very important thing to remember – is that do not try to evoke feelings of shame in your students. This is entirely unproductive. Shame causes negative emotions and can further discourage students from studying. It can also only make your relationship with the student worse. Certainly, it will make it more uncomfortable for both of you to interact in the long run.
What you need to do instead is to talk to the student about the choices they have made and their impact on what is to follow. Try to find out why they have decided to break the rules. Have an honest conversation with them. Such a conversation will help you understand the motivations behind your students’ cheating and having figured out what these are, you can go ahead and then create a plan of helping. And then, enforce the rules that you established at the start of the term. No exceptions.
Now, let’s get to the bottom of the strategy of discouraging children from cheating.
1. What we need to remember is that sometimes students are just desperate to get a good mark and that is why they resort to cheating. It would be useful to make it clear to your students that it is not the grades that matter – it is their journey that counts. By constantly stressing that the process of learning should be prioritized, teachers are helping students be less stressed about their grades. And actually not prioritize them as much as the process of learning itself.
Also, let them know that it is ok sometimes to fail. What matters is not their failure but how they deal with it. What lessons did they learn from it? If a failure motivates students – even better.
2. Safe classroom is one of the keys to discouraging children from teachers. When we talk about safety, we are not talking about physical safety only of course. What we mean here is emotional safety. Safety from being judged and shamed. That kind of environment helps your students develop a sense of belonging. Their classroom is not just a place where they must come and sit through the day – it is a place where they are valued and where they are appreciated.
Imagine, if you constantly emphasize the importance of getting a good mark for an assignment or exam, then your students will feel constantly anxious. They will get the wrong message – that you will acknowledge them and appreciate them only if they get a good mark. So in that case, getting a good mark, at all costs, becomes their priority. And if they are struggling, then they will just not be able to appreciate the idea of an educational journey. They will jump straight into cheating.
But if your students feel safe, if they are reminded that, explicitly and implicitly, their self-worth and their grades are two different things, then they will certainly be less likely to teach. They will be more likely to genuinely try and learn despite the difficulties that any educational journey of course entails.
3. Let students express their emotions. Another feature of a safe classroom is allowing students to let you know how you feel. Indeed, what drives students to teach in many cases is their inability to handle their lives and the things that are happening there. Allowing students to express their emotions does not mean that they have to be emotional in class. Not at all. The simplest thing that you can do is organize weekly counseling sessions with your students (make sure that they do not interfere with your schedule of course).
During these sessions talk to your students about how they feel in class. What they are hoping to achieve, what they think they have done well, and what they would like to improve. Ask them if you are speaking too fast or if there is anything that they are struggling with. As a matter of fact, the crucial conversation about cheating in general or a particular instance of cheating on the part of your student can be held during one of those counseling sessions.
During these sessions, you can remind your students that it is ok to make mistakes and they should not be afraid of making them. Mistakes are a part of learning. They help us realize what else we need to work on to improve and they show us where we stand with our progress. Unfortunately, in many classroom setting teachers are still promoting the idea that mistakes should be avoided. Nothing could be more detrimental than this. We do not want students to be fixated on their mistakes and create an obsession within them with not making any mistakes in their work.
In this short article, we have talked about the science of teaching. We have focused on the main reasons standing behind students’ engagement in academic dishonesty. One of them is the feeling of insecurity and the poor understanding of what school is actually about. Honest conversation in a safe classroom environment about the importance of the whole learning journey as well as the fact that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes should help you nip the problem of cheating in the bud. So talk to your students, hear them, and be clear on what consequences they will face should they engage in cheating to get a better mark.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.