Forget the groundhog. At my school we have our own harbinger of spring.
It happens during a Community Meeting – our morning, all-school gathering where announcements for the day are made. She puts up her hand and waits to be called on.
“This is just a reminder. All 10th graders are to come to my room today at mentor period for Plagiarism Storytime.”
And with that announcement, the 3rd marking period is in full swing and research paper season has begun.
Mrs. Selinsky has been hosting Plagiarism Storytime since before I arrived at the school. It’s legendary. Until recently I knew only two things about this event. The first is that she uses the book Don’t Be a Copycat! Write a Great Report Without Plagiarizing by Nancy Bently. The second is that she serves milk and cookies. (Mrs. Selinsky may not be a librarian, but she fully embraces the strategy of “If you feed them, they will come.” Her spread for Shakespeare Day, where students spend an entire day reading Macbeth in a single show, is phenomenal.)
So I asked her to tell me more about this high school storytime. Here’s what happens.
All of the tables and chairs are moved to the perimeter of the room, so that there’s plenty of room to sit on the floor. The lights are turned off (the windows in the room let in a good amount of light). Students can choose blankets and quilts to sit on. Mrs. Selinsky pulls her chair to the center of the room and begins the stories.
Along with selections from Don’t Be a CopyCat!, Mrs. Selinsky tells stories of students who have been caught plagiarizing in the past (with the names changed/removed, of course). There is the student who thought he could recycle a paper he wrote for a previous class, but made the fatal mistake of forgetting to remove the previous teacher’s name from the heading of the paper. Another student, who had to write summaries of the stories from a book of short stories he was reading, copied the summaries directly from the book. Doubly foolish, because, not only did he plagiarize, but the book from which he plagiarized had come from Mrs. Selinsky’s personal collection.
She tells the story of her own experience with plagiarism. In middle school, she found someone else taking credit for something she had written. Not a good feeling.
She then goes over the official school policy on plagiarism as laid out in the student handbook. While students have seen this policy every time they receive a long-term writing assignment, it’s part of the process and a good reminder to really pay attention to what it says.
Students get the reminder that there are real people behind the words that students read. Authors who worked hard to research and present the information that makes the students’ research possible. To illustrate this, she shows them a book by Dr. Selinsky, her husband, an article by Rachel Selinsky, her daughter, and a muscial composition by Peter Selinsky, her son (they are an incredibly smart and talented family). Would the students take credit for the work by these people who are important to her? Would they steal their words? No. And that same respect should be shown to all authors, because they too are someone’s loved one.
Mrs. Selinsky says that storytime usually ends with student questions and that the questions are often quite thoughtful. Students ask for a clarification of fair use and how to cite an author. They ask about things that are in the public domain (“Yes, you still have to give credit to the creator”). And they ask about what happens to adults who are caught plagiarizing.
I had the opportunity to cover one of Mrs. Selinsky’s classes recently and asked the students what their thoughts were on Plagiarism Storytime. The immediate response was, “Fun!” They told me it took them back to being little kids at library storytimes.
According to one student, “It reminded us of the good times before we had to deal with teenage stress.”