Four Ways To Reduce Cheating or
How is cheating on a test like snagging a bagel?
By Jill Jenkins
Stephen D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book Freakonomics examines the story of Paul Feldman who rewarded his department by bringing a knife, bagels and cream cheese every Friday. He set out a basket with a sign indicating that the cost of each bagel with cream cheese was one dollar. Ninety-five percent of those who took a bagel dutifully complied and put a dollar in the basket proving that most people are honest. When Paul Feldman quit his job to start a company delivering bagels to other business, he kept data on how honest people really were. Despite that fact that Feldman’s business still operated on the honor code requiring people to pay for the bagels they ate unsupervised, he was able to earn a salary equal to that at his previous job. It is true that in companies where the employees did not know Paul Feldman, the percentage of those who paid was lower, 80-90%, but it was not enough to disprove that most people are honest. Although putting an open basket out to collect dollars in an environment where everyone knew him and liked him, was not as effective as putting out a locked box. No one took the cash out of the basket, took the basket or the box, but they were more likely to pay if there was an appearance of security. Furthermore, when the employees liked their boss, they were more likely to pay for their bagels. Likewise, in smaller businesses employees were also likely to pay for their bagels. At businesses where fewer employees paid for their bagels a simple note indicating that he was going to have to raise the price of the bagels since not everyone was paying fairly, the percentage of those paying increase, probably due to peer pressure.
What can we gleam from the bagel data to reduce cheating in schools? First, like those bagel munching employees most students are honest and don’t cheat. They are motivated by incentives: economic (which means grades in school because that is how we pay them); social, and moral. There are four methods teachers can use to reduce cheating: first, make it difficult to cheat; second, develop an amicable relationship with students (guilt works); third, develop a sense of comaraderie among students; and fourth, make the consequences meaningful and significant.
One: Make Cheating Difficult
Just as collecting bagel money in an open basket proved less effective than a locked box, failure to properly monitor students during testing could prove too tempting for students suffering from wandering eyes. Technology makes cheating even easier for students who often share log-in and passwords to make a few dollars or for the friendship of a pretty girl or a handsome young man. As a result, it is imperative that a teacher set up her/his room so access to all students and monitor logins and test taking. Be visible. (Don’t you slow down when you see a highway patrol car on a freeway?) Do not correct papers or leave the room while your students are testing. Absolutely, do not go to the faculty room to eat a bagel.
Another problem I encountered while teaching in an affluent middle school was students who either plagiarized papers or parents who wrote their students papers for them. In fact, one young man confessed when confronted that he felt overwhelmed, so his mother sent him to bed and copied a paper from the inter-net for him to submit. A colleague suggested a solution: have students write their rough drafts in class. I took it a step further. On the first day I gave students a prompt, modeled how to unpack it and create a prewriting activity: an outline or a cluster. Then I passed prompts out to groups of four students and wandered about the room helping them as they unpacked each prompt and completed a prewriting activity. On the second day, I gave each student a prompt and the class period to unpack it, create either an outline or a cluster and write a rough draft. I collected these at the end of the class period and recorded them in the roll book. The next day, the students met in the computer lab, picked up their pre-writing and rough draft as they entered and had another class period to type the paper into the computerized writing program, My Access. Before the next week, I printed each student’s paper. The next week, I returned the typed papers to a different student and walked the class through a rubric so the student could evaluate the paper they were given and make constructive advice stressing the motto: “Friends don’t let friends turn in bad papers” ensuring that they would make positive and civil recommendations. The next day, the students met again in the computer lab, retrieved their papers and were given a class period to revise their papers. The process eliminated the problem of parents writing their children’s papers; it reduced the students’ stress because they were completing the assignment during class time and were given enough support that they felt more capable to complete the work successfully; and it improved the students’ ability to write.
Two: Create a Positive Relationship
When the employees knew and liked their boss, more paid for their bagels. Likewise, fewer students will cheat if they have a positive relationship with their teacher. Relationships are important to people. How do you create a positive relationship with students? Spend time in the hallway chatting with your students about their lives outside of the classroom. Complement each student, a little sugar goes a long way. Find something positive about each student and send a note home to his/her parent describing whatever sterling quality or behavior that student possesses. If the child does cheat, use it as a learning opportunity to help him/her understand what he/she did that was wrong, why it was wrong, and how he/she could avoid the same errors. Sometimes appropriate restitution is in order. For example if a student plagiarizes a paper, perhaps after conferring with his/her parent and the student, he/she could be given an opportunity to rewrite the paper at 80% of the assigned value. Be cautious of your vocal tones. Do not use anger; instead be disappointed that such a good boy could make such a poor decision. Guilt is strong force. Don’t attack the child; attack the behavior. Students who made a bad choice must still accept the consequences, even if they are nice children.
Three: Using Peer Pressure
In smaller companies with fewer employees, the rate of unpaid bagels was smaller. Each employee cared that the other employees might think poorly of him if he took a bagel without paying for it. Children and adolescents care even more about their peers’ opinions than adults do. As a result, many will choose to cheat to please another student hoping to gain his/her friendship. Teachers cannot control the size of their classes, but they can enhance the effect peers have on each other. When students are seated in rows and never allowed to interact with each other, they fail to gain a sense of community. That isolation can lead to more cheating. At my former teaching assignment, the district decided that each grade level would be assigned to teach Sadlier-Oxford’s Vocabulary in grade seven through twelve. To our surprise, a clever student had published a webpage with all of the answers making cheating simple. Although the publishers continued to have these webpages, removed, they would reappear. As a department, we decided we would approach vocabulary differently. First, we made the completion of the workbook activities less significant to their grade than the subsequent tests. Second, we organized students in learning groups of two to four students and gave them class time to complete the workbook activities collaborative during one class period. Third, we added a variety of learning games to ensure their learning. Fourth we offered extra credit for students who found their vocabulary words in their reading. (Mine were Jenkins’ Jewels worth one point.) Another Jenkins’ Jewel could be earned if your parents signed a note indicating the student had reviewed his vocabulary at home before the test. Even though the teachers worked collaborative on the workbook activities, they took the tests independently. Furthermore, we provided each student who received a perfect score a small rubber duckie, a valuable prize for a ninth grade student. As a result, more students learned the vocabulary and fewer students cheated. When children feel confident in their ability and know the learning material, they are less likely to cheat. When children feel they are part of a community, they are less likely to risk alienating others in the community by cheating.
Incentives can be both positive and negative. Positive incentives can backfire and result in more cheating if they are too enticing. For example, if I offered students a new I-Pod for perfect scores on their vocabulary tests, students would create a black market of test answers. Rubber Duckies are silly, but lack the value associated with the I-Pod. The prize or the punishment should not be so insignificant that it does not have the desired effect. In the book Freakonomics by Stephen D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, a daycare center in Haifa, Israel wanted to reduce the number of late pick-ups. They introduced a negative incentive: a three-dollar fine for each child picked-up 10 minutes late. As a result, the number of late pick-ups increased. The parents rationalized that they no longer needed to feel guilty about picking their children up late. If the fine had been more significant they may have reacted differently. If the fine exorbitant, they would have felt hostile. Students like these parents need to feel that cheating carries such a high penalty that it is not worth the effort. Losing all of the credit for a particular test may not be enough, but a one grade drop in their academic grade might be. Choose your incentive carefully because a penalty too large can create animosity and be counter-effective. More important there is powers in numbers. If the school develops a school-wide policy on cheating requiring all teachers to administer the same rigorous incentive, cheating will be reduced. However, this means administrators need to discipline teachers who do not comply with the policy.