We all hate cheating. We're sure that we've all tried different things to combat the ever growing problem that is cheating in the classroom. In attempting the self-paced classroom, we have been asked quite a bit about students cheating. This year we have had way fewer instances of cheating than before we went to the self-paced method. There are few factors at play here and some it depends on the content, but the main factors deal with how you setup the course and the mindset you have and teach the students to have about work in your class.
Part of fighting cheating in the self-paced classroom is about how you setup your gradebook. In World Geography, I have 3 parts to my gradebook. There is class work, assessments, and a final project. The classwork section is worth 20%, assessments are worth 65%, and the final project is worth 15% of the grade.
The classwork is where all of the assignments that build toward the unit/content assessment live but are not the assessments themselves. With this being only 20% the students tend to not feel as pressured to cheat on those assignments because they will not tank their grade.
Along with this, I work on building a mindset of growth and mastery over grades and assignments. I am sure that I am not alone in experiencing the endless question of how many points is this worth, will this be graded, etc. I have always hated answering these questions so even before I started the self-paced journey, I started working on this in my class. I work with my class on the mindset that the work we do in class is practice building up to the assessment. Why would you want me to grade your practice? That being said I always tell them that completion of our class work goes into the class work grade. I very rarely get any arguments about this after a couple of weeks. I spend most of my time working with students on formative assessment. As students complete assignments I review their work with them and we are able to stop then and there and figure out what to work on.
On the assessment side, I do allow students to retest and/or do optional projects to replace assessment grades to give students choice and allow them to show me their learning in different ways. Before students can retest, they have to meet with me and review what went wrong on the first test and make a study plan and reteach as needed. Then they make a retest appointment.
I also encourage teamwork. I don’t really have a problem with people working together on the material. I cannot pretend that students still cheat and copy each other’s work when it comes to class work. When I see it in class, I remind students that when you do this, it will not help you pass the test since you did not take the time to complete it. It really doesn’t happen as often as it used to though. Instead now I am hearing conversations about how to do things and what the content means which I am super proud of.
Of course like with everything, there are things I want to improve on but overall I am really happy with how things have gone and experience way less cheating than in the past.
In all of our Algebra and Geometry classes, 100% of the grade comes from tests and quizzes. We use objective grading so that we can conference with students and help them identify specific challenge areas within the subject. Before adding the self-paced element to my class, the class took a 3-5 question paper and pencil quiz about 3 times a week. We'd collect the quizzes, go over the answers, and move on to the next part of the objective or unit while their quiz grade was added to the grade book. The hardest part about this was knowing how much time to give on the quiz. Because we do a lot of short quizzes, it was not ideal for a co-taught class where I have a lot of "extra time" accommodations. I was constantly running into time management issues with some kids finishing in 5 minutes or less and others needing 15 minutes. With all that extra time, it is hard to keep kids quiet and on task. There was a lot of room for cheating on these quizzes because everyone had the same questions and they were all taking it at the same time.
One of the best things about creating my self-paced classroom is that there is no idle time necessary for students. No one is sitting there waiting on me to give instruction or on other students to catch up. Every student is challenged. And every student is kept accountable.
Because of the room setup, it is easy to keep an eye on who is taking a quiz. That section of the room should be silent because they are testing while other parts may be pretty talkative. Basically, if I see anyone in the testing area talking, it is considered cheating. I am no longer watching 30 kids for cheating behaviors. I am now watching about 6 at the most at a time. They know this and it definitely puts more pressure on them to not cheat.
All of my quizzes are housed online on our Learning Management System (we use Canvas). Our LMS allows us to created graded quizzes that choose from a bank of questions. For each 5 question quiz, I make a bank of about 20 questions. Even if all six students who are testing during a class period are testing over the same section, it is unlikely they will have the same questions. This has been a huge help and is something I would try whether I was using a self-paced classroom or not. Because not everyone has the same questions, you can't just look at someone else's screen or work to get the answer. You would have to ask a student for help and they would have to either try to talk it out for you or write the problem on their own paper. Though I haven't run into this, I keep it in mind as another dead giveaway for cheating to keep an eye out for. After quizzes that may not go so hot for a student, I conference with them and show them their quiz on my laptop, explaining what they did wrong on the problems they missed. I always ask them to bring me their work. When this is missing, they can't verbalize what they did, or if one day I found a student who had a problem on their work that wasn't on their test, something is up.
Students figure out pretty quickly into the self-paced set up that it is not ideal for cheating. I have had two instances of cheating this year and both were easily identified because the students were asking another student how to do a problem while testing. Another benefit of the self-paced classroom is that I can punish this student without giving them a zero. A big threat teachers often use with cheating is putting in a permanent zero. I get the concept and I have done it, too. My only issue with this is that I want the grade to represent what the student knows and if they can learn that concept and do better than a zero, I'll give it to them. Rather than a permanent zero, I call the parents and give the students a referral. Then I am able to talk with the student about why they had a question and what they can do to be sure they are prepared to take a quiz so we don't have to go through all of this again.
Another barrier for cheating in my class is that students need an access code entered before they take a quiz. Moving to an open seat in the testing area is a visual signal to me that they need the access code typed but they are unable to begin a quiz until I type it in for them. This helps me control how many are taking a quiz at a time. If I know I have a student who struggles with cheating, I may ask that student to test in a specific seat or when there are fewer students in the testing area. With the access codes, I am in full control of who is testing throughout a class period.
All other aspects of the class encourage working together. I often see students who may not have gotten the grade they wanted on a quiz go back to their table and say something like, "I thought I had it. Can you look at the problem and tell me if I did it right?" to another student. Or if they are moving onto the next concept and they know someone who has already done it, they may ask them what the hardest part of the section is or what formulas they need to know...the list goes on and on but the point is that it's ok to ask questions and work together through everything except the quizzes.
Cheating is never going to completely go away but we are always trying to find new ways to combat it and encourage original work. Hopefully some of these strategies (projects, specific seating, question banks, etc.) can help you whether you are planning to teach a self-paced course or not! But we have to say, we love our self-paced courses and when it comes to discouraging cheating, it has definitely helped us out!