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Cheating in the Middle School Classroom
Episode 3321st May 2024 • The Teaching Toolbox - A Podcast for Middle School Teachers • Brittany Naujok & Ellie Nixon, Podcast for Middle School Teachers
00:00:00 00:23:36

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Cheating in the middle school classroom is a multifaceted issue that demands attention from educators, parents, and students alike. By understanding the underlying pressures, promoting ethical education, and addressing technological challenges, we can create an environment where academic integrity thrives. 

In today's episodes we're unpacking this complex topic from many angles and sharing our tips and tricks for how to support middle school students through the temptation to cheat.

Topics Discussed

  • Looking at cheating throughout history
  • How we can guide middle school students through the temptation to cheat
  • Cheating in the digital age
  • Tips to prevent cheating and handle it once it has already happened

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Transcripts

Brittany 0:00

Imagine a bustling middle school classroom, the heir charged with the tension of exams and assignments. But lurking beneath the surface lies a shadowy secret cheating, from sneaky glances to covert whispers, the temptation to cheat is ever present.

Brittany 0:22

Thank you for joining us at the teaching Toolbox Podcast. I'm Brittany, and I'm here with Ellie.

Ellie 0:29

Hey there.

Brittany 0:30

Join us as we delve into the complex world of cheating in the middle school classroom.

Ellie 0:37

ng, which was in China nearly:

Brittany 1:57

1400 years ago

Ellie 2:01

Candidates also bought model composition essays that were written by professionals. And these were memorized and transcribed on the exams. Even though of course, the government strictly outlawed this practice, but candidates did it anyway.

Brittany 2:16

The officials monitoring the exams were commonly bribed. As often happens even today, some candidates hired substitutes to go in and take the exams in their place.

Ellie 2:30

I wonder if that was a bit easier than it is today. Others used elaborate hand signalling systems where their outside companions provided the test takers with answers. They also snuck notes into the exam room. And it said that wealthy families bought cheat sheets made of silk or gold leaf shavings that can be inserted into the shaft of a pen. And it talked about this tiny booklet printed on silk about the size of a matchbox. But was 160 pages long is something that was used and it was recently displayed at a conference.

Brittany 3:12

That's incredible. 160 pages.

Ellie 3:15

Yeah, and so tiny,

Brittany 3:17

but the size of a matchbook.

Ellie 3:19

Yeah.

Brittany 3:20

According to the article, government officials were so concerned about cheating that they separated exam takers into private cubicles, and all candidates were body searched before entering the room.

Ellie 3:34

wow.

Brittany 3:35

Even though some of these cheating methods might seem extreme, some are similar to the kinds of things students do today, writing answers in different places, going to the bathroom to look at notes, paying someone to write a paper on that for them. And technology has made cheating even easier. If students have access to their phones during the test. They can look for answers online, check information they've stored in their phones, or even text a friend for the answers.

Ellie 4:06

Hmm. According to a study published in the Journal of youth and adolescents, approximately 64% of middle school students admitted to cheating on exams or assignments at least once. The most common forms of cheating reported include copying homework, using cheat sheets and plagiarizing from the internet.

Brittany 4:26

Cheating often stems from a myriad of pressures placed upon students. This can be academic pressure, fear of failure and the desire to meet parental or societal expectations. Did you ever deal with cheating in your classroom?

Ellie 4:44

For sure we did. There aren't a ton of episodes that stick out in my mind, but I do remember a lot of situations and it typically seemed to be more in social studies or science, when we would discover that two students had identical Homework papers, or maybe it was a graded homework assignment. You know, it was completed as a take home test or something like that, but it was gonna be worth a lot of points and the papers would be exactly identical. And so the teacher who discovered it, and the homeroom teachers of those students would, you know, take them out in the hallway and have this discussion, like, why are these papers so similar? And, you know, through conversations and discussions, try to get down to the bottom of whose paper was the original? And whose was not? And then, you know, deal with consequences from there. How about you,

Brittany 5:33

I would occasionally catch kids talking and exchanging answers with each other. And so I would just grab the papers and tear em up and give him a zero right away.

Ellie 5:45

Mm hmm.

Brittany 5:46

But did you ever feel the pressure to cheat from parents or from family?

Ellie 5:52

I did not. I don't want to sound like I'm special or anything. But of all of my siblings, I was probably the best student. So I'd say it was like, Yay, she's doing great, you know, so it didn't feel like I think I had my own pressures on myself, that I felt, you know, it wasn't necessarily from my parents, but more for myself. How about you?

Brittany 6:14

I definitely was in the same situation, I was probably the best child in the family, academically. And I did put a lot of pressure on myself. But I also had, like, I don't want to go into therapy here. But I also had a dad who also spanked me with a belt every time I got a B.

Ellie 6:36

Oh, my God.

Brittany 6:37

So I did often feel like the pressure to get A's. And I usually got them fine.

Ellie 6:45

Yeah.

Brittany 6:46

But occasionally, I would be like, do I need to do I need to cheat or something. And I didn't, didn't usually feel that pressure. But there was one time in college, where I had a Greek mythology artifact test. And it was all about different Greek statues and vases. And, and basically, it was visual, the teacher was going to show an artifact, a slide of a statue, or a vase, or, and by the, by the picture on the vase, you had to know what vase it was, who made it when it was made.

Ellie 7:31

Oh man.

Brittany 7:32

That kind of stuff. Like I'm a visual learner, but that was not, I couldn't remember that many details.

Ellie 7:39

Okay.

Brittany 7:39

And so the night before the test, I stayed up and made a little cheat sheet booklet that I could hold in the palm of my hand, it folded up and I could hold in the palm of my hand,

Ellie 7:52

Was it 160 pages?

Brittany 7:54

It wasn't 160 pages, but it was a lot.

Ellie 7:58

Oh, man.

Brittany 7:59

But then came the test. And I found out I didn't need it by writing that little booklet I had learned all the information.

Ellie 8:07

Awesome. So you discovered a new study technique?

Brittany 8:09

Yes. I never cheated. But I came very close.

Ellie 8:15

That's a good example.

Brittany 8:17

Societal and parental pressures can be hard on a kid and you never quite know what they're going through. I like I wouldn't have thought any of my teachers would have known that what my dad was like at home.

Ellie 8:30

Right? Right.

Brittany 8:31

So how can educators and parents alleviate these pressures to foster a more conducive learning environment? Because once students begin to start cheating, it can have long term effects on their learning and their personal growth, it becomes kind of like a drug once they start, they really get going on it, and it becomes a habit.

Ellie 8:55

Right? Right. So how do we battle that? One of the best things we can do is, is simply try to encourage ethical behavior, whether it's class discussions, signing an honesty and integrity contract, because you know, sometimes just putting your signature on something like that, for some students can really be like, Okay, I signed that. I have to do it, it says, or enforcing a strict no cheating policy. There are a lot of ways we can help middle schoolers do their best to avoid falling into the cheating habit. Middle school is not just about mastering academic subjects, but it's, as we said about shaping ethical values. How can we effectively communicate the importance of honesty and integrity? You can implement character education programs, have classroom discussions on ethics and discuss the impact of positive role models in shaping students moral compass, how can we turn instances of cheating into learning experiences for students to help them understand the importance of academic integrity and the value of hard work?

Brittany 9:54

One approach is to address the root causes of cheating, such as that pressure to perform well or that lack of understanding of the material, this is a great time to pull those students aside and have a conversation about it. Teachers can create a supportive environment where students feel comfortable asking for help and seeking clarification on topics they find challenging, build that relationship between you and the kids. Encourage open communication can lead to a deeper understanding of the material and reduce the temptation to cheat. Sometimes students have almost seemed like they didn't realize that what they did was cheating, whether it was plagiarizing or letting a friend copy. So this can be a time to make sure they clearly understand that that behavior is not okay.

Ellie:

It just made me think of one or two little things, you know, when we would have those students and one would have copied from the other sometimes the one who allowed the copying, really didn't seem to understand like, Oh, I I just let them copy. I didn't cheat.

Brittany:

Yeah,

Ellie:

you know, and they have to understand that that is part of the cheating process.

Brittany:

Yeah.

Ellie:

And then also, as you said, building relationships, sometimes they really don't want to disappoint you, you know, and sometimes when they know that, you know, they have done something wrong like that, that's kind of a big blow because they don't want to disappoint you.

Brittany:

Yeah, that can be very powerful.

Ellie:

Another strategy is to focus on teaching students about the consequences of cheating, both academically and ethically. If the discussion was students reveals that they did knowingly cheat, then assigning consequences will hopefully curb that behavior before it gets worse, by discussing real life examples and having open discussions about the impact of cheating on your reputation. And on future opportunities. Students can develop a better understanding of how important it is to be honest, and to have integrity.

Brittany:

I used to talk to kids about that about, like, who you associate yourself with is who you become, and what actions you take is who you become. You know, and that's, that's your reputation. And so if you don't want to be known as a bully, don't hang out with the bullies. If you don't want to be known as a cheater, or, you know, as a bad person, then you can't do the bad things, you know, right. And you got to think about that, ahead of the game. Sure. Additionally, teachers can emphasize the value of perseverance and hard work by celebrating small victories and progress, rather than just focusing on the grade. This can help students build a growth mindset and develop a stronger sense of self efficacy. This is another way we can help students develop intrinsic motivation to do the right thing, versus those extrinsic consequences of getting caught or extrinsic rewards of getting a better grade.

Ellie:

And if we take some time to incorporate lessons on study skills, which you could head back to episode nine and listening to our study skills episode, for more about that, but if we incorporate lessons about study skills, time management and stress management, we can empower students to approach their academic challenges in a more effective way. Kind of like you found that by writing all those things out, you actually ended up learning that, you know, we could kind of incorporate that into instances when students are cheating or just make that part of our routine is teaching some of those study skills. By providing some tools and resources to help students succeed, we can support them in developing the skills they need to excel academically without having to feel like they need to resort to cheating.

Brittany:

In today's digital age, cheating has taken on new forms with the proliferation of smartphones and the internet. From sharing answers via messaging apps to accessing online resources during exams. Technology has blurred the lines between academic integrity and dishonesty. So how can schools adapt to these technological challenges? What strategies can be implemented to promote digital literacy and responsible online behavior?

Ellie:

One thing we can do is design assessments that require more critical thinking and application of concepts which would make it a little bit harder for students to cheat using technology alone. We could use a variety of assessment formats like open ended questions, essays and projects that can help assess student's true understanding of the material. We could use plagiarism detection tools like turn it in, which can be beneficial in identifying copied content from online sources. And again, encouraging a culture of integrity and emphasizing the value of learning over grades can ultimately help discourage students from resorting to cheating with technology

Brittany:

And how can When we deal with cheating once it's happened, what can we do to deter it? Well, back to that article about cheating. 1400 years ago in China, they didn't have the technology we have, obviously, but to deter cheating. The article claims that those caught cheating were caned or placed in stockades. For a month, there are even recorded cases of executions. During the Song Dynasty, the exams are even held in a prison like complex, or over 22,000 examinees had to do their tests in individual cells that were surrounded by thorn bushes, and had armed guards who monitored the compound from watch towers,

Ellie:

They are taking that seriously. Now, obviously, we aren't doing anything like that to deter or deal with cheating in our middle school classrooms. But we thought it was kind of fun to think about those things that used to happen. But we do have some great ideas for you to use today. So some ways that teachers are dealing with cheating, once it has happened is by using their cheating policy, maybe your district as a cheating policy. Some policies, say students get a zero, and there is no chance for a retake. You can contact parents and maybe rather than you calling the parent necessarily have the student call the parent with you there and have them admit to their parent what they did. And then you can have a chat, you can refer to administration, again, that might depend on your policy in your district. You might have detention on Friday, some buddies share that they have detention Fridays till 6pm. But is that punishing you, as the teacher who has to oversee that, again, it's different by district, you might have lunch detention, that's something that we did use more frequently, you might give a retake and give it a harder version as the retake rather than letting them retake the same version of an exam or test students might be kicked off of any teams that they happen to be on as a consequence. Many teachers that shared how they deal with this said that they are lenient, sometimes especially like at the sixth grade level. But they tell students that it will be harder as they get older, and they're going to have worse consequences.

Brittany:

But then, I've been a sixth grade teacher, and I found that as I moved to older grades, I found that they were actually more lenient than we were at sixth grade.

Ellie:

Oh my gosh, yeah. You think you're preparing them for what's coming? And then it's not coming? Yeah, that's challenging.

Brittany:

A few ways to try to prevent cheating, as shared by other teachers that we surveyed, were to give different versions of tests, or even just label the test differently and tell students that they are different versions.

Ellie:

takes out some of that extra creating different versions work for you.

Brittany:

provide answers and have students prove or explain why it's correct or incorrect. That might work well for math, or science even. Yeah, lock down your browsers while administering computerized tests or block sites that students can go to while on the computer. Go Guardian is great for that. Use questions on index cards or small slips of paper for quick assessments, but make the questions different on the different slips of paper, students can put up privacy folders. But again, you have to make sure that there are no answers written on them. I've had students do that. Or each class, you can pass out a new set of blank manila folders, so you know that they're clean. You can separate desks as much as possible so that everybody's kind of on a separate little island. And then you can listen for sound communication, like sneezing or coughing. I once had a college class where they actually had two students that they found, were communicating through sneezing and bless yous so that they could cheat on tests.

Ellie:

Oh, my gosh,

Brittany:

one kid would sneeze. And then the other kid would say bless you, or excuse you or something after a certain amount of pause, and then that would tell the first kid what the answer was. So if he said bless you right away, it was a and if he if he waited just a tiny bit, it was B and if he waited a long time it was D

Ellie:

I wonder if they did like a One Mississippi, two Mississippi, kind of thing. So they decided to answer Yeah. Oh my gosh.

Brittany:

So it was crazy. There was a lot of sneezing going on during

Ellie:

Hope it wasn't like a 50 question test or something. Okay, so cheating in the middle school classroom is definitely a multifaceted issue, and it demands attention from us as teachers, parents and from the students alike. By understanding the underlying pressures, promoting ethical education, and addressing technological challenges, we can create an environment where academic integrity thrives. Let's empower our students to navigate this moral maze with integrity and resilience, and ensure that they not only excel academically, but also grow into principled individuals prepared to face the challenges of the world beyond the classroom.

Brittany:

We hope this episode gave you a few new ideas that you can add to this aspect of your teaching toolbox. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Remember to tag us if you share on social media, and we'll see you next time. Have a great day.

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