Education Letter to the Editor

In Their Own Words

August 12, 2005 1 min read

I think your article on technology and plagiarism [“Keeping It Real,”, May/ June] missed one important ingredient that is too often absent from middle school on. Plagiarism is often the result of an inability of students to write ideas in their own words. In low-income areas, decreased vocabulary acquisition and a lack of emphasis on teaching paraphrasing result in a population of students convinced that they do not have the words to communicate the ideas of others.

In my middle school classes, I tell students what amazing creatures they are because without any guided teaching, they learned in six years to speak grammatically correct sentences. I tell them they already have a voice and they shouldn’t be afraid if it isn’t as fancy as what they read. We learn to summarize narratives by relying on our ability to visualize scenes in our heads. I force them to summarize expository text by limiting them to one-sentence explanations for each paragraph. This results in complex sentence structures and teaches them that they can reduce others’ ideas into sentences that are their own.

By the time our 700-word research essay moves into the picture, they have become sophisticated paraphrasers who realize they don’t need to rely on a word-by-word account of their sources. They believe in their own ability to speak, and like true students, their first ideas are borrowed until they are sophisticated enough to create their own.

Maritza Gerbrandy-Dahl

San Jose, California