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Learning at its Best

10 Ways to Cheat-Proof Your Classroom

When I was in high school, I helped set up a system where seven of us would divide up math problems and copy from one another. It was an intricate framework involving which ones we each did on our own and which ones we copied from one another. With the addition of our three separate mistakes that we added to the problems, it became nearly impossible for the teacher to detect.

Was it wrong? Probably. It certainly wasn’t honest. We would have been better off simply doing less homework and standing up boldly to the consequence for insubordination. Was it surprising? Not at all. We were motivated by work completion in a system of rewards and punishments. It wasn’t that we were cheating so much as bargain hunting. We had rigged the system to benefit ourselves as consumers.

One of the biggest classroom management complaints I hear in the staff lounge involves student cheating. Teachers are horrified, mystified and petrified when it happens. Typically, the solution moves toward stricter surveillance and harsher punishments.

However, a classroom leader should be more proactive by attacking the causes rather than the effects of cheating. This begins with establishing a relationship of trust. Students are less likely to cheat if it feels like a betrayal of trust with someone they care about. However, the following are a few more ways that teachers can prevent students from cheating:

  1. Critical Thinking: The best assignments cannot be copied. This might include asking students to develop an argument and defend it individually or having students develop their own math problems or their own processes for solving shared math problems.
  2. Move Toward Mastery: Help students see that the goal is not completion, but mastery. Get rid of averages and zeroes. Students need to understand that cheating prevents teachers from providing necessary intervention and plan for future learning.
  3. Monitor Frequently Engage with Students Often: If a student turns in a plagiarized essay, chances are the teacher wasn’t part of the pre-planning, writing and editing process. Teachers need to monitor students often and provide instant feedback so that incompletion doesn’t snowball into an opportunity to cheat.
  4. Allow Mistakes: Sometimes students copy work, because they have become risk-averse and afraid of having the wrong answers. However, if a teacher can cultivate an classroom culture that values risk-taking and vulnerability, students have less of a need to copy.
  5. Don’t Assign Homework: Students cheat on homework for a variety of reasons, including lack of time (due to extracurricular activities), a sense that the work is irrelevant and the lack of a guide who can provide feedback. Quit assigning homework and cheating is less of an issue.
  6. Make It Meaningful: If an assignment is intrinsically meaningful, students are less likely to cheat. Find ways to make learning fun, challenging, creative and driven by a larger purpose. Getting rid of grades is a great first step here.
  7. Teach Intellectual Property: I’m often surprised when students don’t know the reasons why cheating is unethical. To them, it’s simply sharing or working together. And, on some level, that’s what happens in groups. However, when students learn about Creative Commons and intellectual property, it moves from an issue of compliance to one of ethics.
  8. Personalization: When students are encouraged to customize assignments, it becomes harder to cheat. Loosely constructed assignments that require personal input allow for a deeper sense of ownership. By contrast, standardized assignments are easy to copy, because they require a cookie cutter approach.
  9. Be a Creative Teacher: Students need to see that teachers are creators rather than consumers. When they see a teacher passionately creating and implementing lessons, there is a sense that the teacher is showing pride in his or her craft. However, when a teacher simply photocopies a packet, students can sense that the teacher doesn’t value the creative process.
  10. Avoid Consumerism: Get rid of the concept that assignments are about the completion of work in order to attain a grade. Switch toward a framework of project-based, authentic assessments instead. In most cases, let them create and they won’t want to cheat.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


9 thoughts on “10 Ways to Cheat-Proof Your Classroom

  1. Great post.

    Posted by Simon Kidd | June 9, 2012, 10:35 am
  2. I very much like and agree with the way you work to eliminate cheating, namely by shifting the role of the learner from consumer/menial producer to creator/distributor. It is the consumer classroom that makes cheating necessary and prominent. I would like to add that the method you used as a student to “cheat” was nothing more than unauthorized collaboration. It was unethical with the culture of that classroom, but as you said was a way of manipulating the system to get what you et al. needed. You were motivated to create a way around an impasse. You did it with others. You and your compatriots thought critically about a given problem and solved it in the most efficient way possible. Essentially you engaged in sort of cooperative learning/ PBL. Given, it takes some creativity of to recognize the cognitive skills involved in collaborative “cheating”, would you agree that it can be a catalyst for teaching collaboration and situational ethics? Cheating in one classroom may be flat out wrong; in another it may be viewed as collaboration. An issue of semantics? Perhaps, but there are certainly useful and transferable skills at play. 

    Great article John, and great teaching. 

    Posted by educatedtodeath | June 9, 2012, 12:14 pm
  3. In reading your post (great thoughts regarding the notion of cheating by the way), two things came to mind for me:

    1. At the university level where my experience is, the wide availability of answer books makes copying so much simpler – but of course eliminates any learning that might come from doing at least a portion of the work in the scheme you and your friends did. Frankly, in the syllabus, I always noted several things: working together was encouraged though I asked they not copy but rather write separately as they worked along together; I am more than willing to assist with addressing the hurdles they had to doing the homework – though I would not do it for them; and I was NOT going to try to police copying from whatever source – that the value of homework was to learn and then assess the understanding of the core knowledge learned and the skills developed.

    2. When reading about your and your friends’ scheme, I was reminded of a posting in Maria Popova’s blog, Brain Pickings ( on June 6th, 2012 dealing with a portion of Dan Ariely’s new book, the one dealing with the relationship between creativity and dishonesty. I won’t go further but will suggest it adds to some of the thoughts in the comments above by “educatedtodeath.”

    Posted by John Bennett | June 9, 2012, 1:39 pm
  4. This is very educative and quite helpful to me. I’m sure others who have read this will agree to it. It explains how you educate people in this new generation without stress. That’s how I see it.

    Posted by Ahmed Sekinat | June 9, 2012, 11:52 pm
  5. My brother attended a college with an honor code. No one proctored tests, but they signed agreements that their work was their own. Anyone caught cheating was up for immediate expulsion.

    He didn’t know of anyone who cheated. Perhaps that won’t work in all environments – Middle and High School – but what if it did?

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | June 14, 2012, 8:07 am


  1. Pingback: Cheating? Who Needs It? | pedagogical pondering - June 9, 2012

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