Cheating is something we teachers don’t like to see. And if we’re lucky, it doesn’t happen. But, is it a question of luck or bad luck? Well, I’m convinced that cheating happens only if it is allowed or encouraged.
Who would want to allow (or even encourage) cheating, you may ask now. Lazy teachers, gullible teachers, lenient teachers, merciless teachers, crazy teachers?
I mean, as the desire to cheat is quite understandable, the teacher’s job is to create conditions in which students can’t cheat at all or even think of cheating. I’d like to stress the difference between can’t and not allowed to here. By can’t I mean that it’s virtually impossible.
I once saw an image of a classroom packed with students taking a test (allegedly taken in a Japanese school). These students had large pieces of paper attached to their temples so that they couldn’t copy from their neighbor’s test. This is not what I meant when I said conditions in which they can’t cheat. What I had in mind were humane conditions, such as two versions of the same test, students sitting in a way that it’s impossible to peek in someone else’s test, designing a test which is useless to copy because every student’s answer is unique (such as describe your last holiday in 120 words).
On the other hand, it’s a good idea to show that you trust your students. The higher-stakes exam, the fewer cheating opportunities students should get, but with low-stakes testing, it’s ok to offer the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden from time to time.
For example, my students often peer correct their tests, which definitely offers some space for cheating. Strangely enough, throughout my career, I only caught someone red-handed once. This particular boy wanted to help his partner by adding a few correct answers during the correction stage, in exchange for his reciprocal lenience, of course. He forgot to change his handwriting and offered me some irrefutable evidence … Anyway, we had a chat and it’s never happened again in this or another class.
However, some other types of incidents have happened. The other day, for example, a very good student showed his test answers to a friend sitting behind him and she willingly copied them all. When I caught them, I was really angry with the student who had shown the answers, rather than with the girl who had copied them. Anyhow, she had to take another test while he was made to feel properly guilty. However, it was partially my fault; I had arranged the seating in a way that enabled cheating plus I was not paying attention during the exam so the students just took advantage. They are only kids after all.
I’d like to say that I’m really grateful for all these learning moments – the moments when the cheaters learn that cheating doesn’t pay and when I learn I have to be more attentive. One way or another, it’s good to ask yourself the following question: what makes your students cheat? Is it a desire to easily achieve something they don’t deserve? Is it a temptation they simply can’t resist? Or is it just a hopeless attempt to escape the unbearable load of responsibility?