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Evolving Teaching Methods in a ChatGPT World | Teacher Talk

ChatGPT and programs like it are turning teachers’ worlds upside down. Remember when calculators became handheld and then started completing complex math problems and graphing? People said kids must be able to do math in their heads and on paper. How can we measure learning when a machine does most of the work for them? What happens when they don’t have a calculator handy?

Today’s controversy centers around writing and the learning students demonstrate through their writing. ChatGPT can write just about anything the user asks. Need an analysis of The Great Gatsby’s portrayal of the American Dream? Need a summary of how photosynthesis works? Need a comparison of Iran and Iraq? ChatGPT can write a paragraph, a list, and an essay for you. All you need to do is write the command and review the product.

This artificial intelligence that runs ChatGPT is not new to our schools. Math students use Photomath, world language students use Google Translate, and English students use Grammarly. In fact, any person who utilizes AutoCorrect and AutoComplete on their phones or documents is tapping into artificial intelligence’s power.

The problem is that writing assignments in school are not for mundane tasks but to demonstrate a student’s level of learning, which then informs the teacher’s decisions about what to teach next and how to teach it. So, how can teachers make sure they are assessing their students’ knowledge and skills and not a product of artificial intelligence? Nothing is completely capable of eliminating the temptation to overuse technology, but these ideas help.

  • Do the work in class. For at least two decades, teachers have been evaluating the value of homework as technology progressively makes cheating easier. From copying and pasting online content to taking pictures of homework and sending it to friends, the temptation to cheat has never been greater. Doing the work in class isn’t a guarantee that students won’t cheat, but it will reduce the temptation.
  • Watch the development of the work. My students share their documents with me right before they start writing. Then I randomly pop into their work to offer feedback as the piece develops.
  • Require that the work be handwritten or that handwritten work accompany the typed copy. Because students’ handwriting seems to get more and more illegible, reading my students’ handwritten work is a chore. (My aging eyes might play a role as well.) Still, I value the act of putting pen to paper. Recently, I’ve had students give me both their paper copy and then the typed version. I expect the typed version to be better than the handwritten one, but the heart of the written work should still exist in the typed product. Do I read both? Only if I have concerns.
  • Require that students include detailed personal connections. ChatGPT can produce vague personal connections that apply to most people, so emphasize the importance of details.
  • Require that students cite specific sources used in class, sources produced within the past two years, or even class discussions. ChatGPT cannot accomplish these tasks.

Notice that I did not list programs that claim to identify work produced by artificial intelligence in order to catch students cheating. I refuse to focus on catching students after they turn in the assignment. Instead, I prefer proactive measures that reduce the temptation to rely on artificial intelligence. I’d rather set up my students for success than set up a program to catch and punish them.

Just like the calculator, generative AI for writing is not going away and will only grow in its capabilities. How we respond requires the evolution of our assignments and our mentality.

Gina Benz has taught for over 23 years in South Dakota. She currently teaches Teacher Pathway (a class she helped develop), English 3, English 3 for immigrant and refugee students, and AP English Language at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, as well as Technology in Education at the University of Sioux Falls.

In 2015 Gina was one of 37 educators in the nation to receive the Milken Educator Award. Since then she has written and spoken on a state and national level about teacher recruitment and grading practices. Before that she received the Presidential Scholar Program Teacher Recognition Award and Roosevelt High School’s Excellence in Instruction Award in 2012 and the Coca-Cola Educator of Distinction Award in 2007.