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In addition to the ABCs and 123s of primary school, educators realize the value of introducing the concept of academic integrity as early as possible. “Children are not born with integrity or the behaviors we associate with it,” says Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD. “...[S]tudents acquire these values and behaviors from adult role models and peers, and in particular, through an understanding of the principles of academic integrity.” By building a solid foundation of honesty, authenticity, and respect in the primary years, educators can help young students cultivate a strong sense of character that will serve them well in school and in life.

Here are just a few ways you can implement integrity teachings in your classroom:

  1. Teach and utilize the vocabulary of integrity. The more exposure young students have to the concept of integrity, the better they will be able to implement it into their long term academic lives. As a primary school teacher, it can be helpful to pre-determine a set of words that align with your classroom’s or school’s academic integrity policy, then utilize them often. Many rooms prominently feature a word wall, where important sight words are on display. Alongside those high-frequency words, integrate the words of integrity and teach students not only how to use them in a sentence, but why they are essential for learning. Lessons on “honesty,” “responsibility,” and “values” go a long way in building the foundation of integrity for young learners. It’s also never too early to use this vocabulary to teach students about finding reliable sources and attributing them, whether it's for a book report or a diorama project. Additionally, you can convey your classroom expectations with these words when discussing academic integrity with parents, and encourage them to have conversations at home with their children about the importance of citations and original work.
  2. Cultivate an environment of kindness and respect. When young students feel safe in their relationship with their teacher and their peers, they will be more inclined to do their best work. They will also be more comfortable in asking for help when they find themselves stuck. On the International Center of Academic Integrity (ICAI) blog, Courtney Cullen highlights the Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity and looks specifically at three values teachers can develop with young students: trust, fairness, and respect. “Trust them when they confide in you, be fair when any issues arise, and respect the time and effort they put on assignments.” Kindness and respect go a long way in any classroom, but especially in an elementary space where students are just learning how to face and move through academic challenges. In the long run, if they are treated with trust and fairness in the classroom, they will treat others (and others’ work!) with kindness and respect.
  3. Emphasize the importance of a growth mindset. Students who understand that their brain is a muscle that can become stronger with practice, have the ability to realize that mistakes and failures are a part of the learning journey. A growth mindset encourages students to reflect on what went right or wrong during an activity or lesson, then proactively take steps to change the outcome. A student without a growth mindset may feel that they have no control over their bad test scores and that cutting corners is the only solution. When students have a deeper sense of ownership over their learning, they can meaningfully develop confidence in their work, an integral component of academic buoyancy. If a student has the “ability to bounce back from seemingly minor, yet subjectively crucial, daily setbacks,” researchers have found that young learners will keep trying and will go from “I can’t do it” to “I can’t do it… yet.”

No matter how young students learn the values of honesty, authenticity, and respect, whether it is through direct lessons and vocabulary work or indirectly through interactions with teachers and peers, the long-term benefits are priceless. 

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