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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Classroom Technology Opinion

AI Is Helping Us With Our Instructional Practice. Here’s How

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 11, 2023 14 min read
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This is the latest in an ongoing series—that began in January—on how educators can adapt to ChatGPT and AI in the classroom.

Using ChatGPT With ELLs

Jan McClellan is currently a full-time virtual English-language-development specialist public school teacher in southwest Missouri supporting all students with their language needs:

There are lots of ways to utilize ChatGPT and AI that benefit educators and students. As ChatGPT and AI utilize technology to produce print and instructions, I can’t think of a better way than to utilize it to benefit our English-language learners in their English-language development (ELD). While none of what ChatGPT, ChatInstruct, or other AI produces is as authentic and intentional as human to human interaction, when it comes to developing and implementing instruction effectively and efficiently, ChatGPT is incredibly useful.

In my current role and in the roles I have had previously that support ELL/ELD students, I have often found myself learning their material before being able to differentiate and support their language. ChatGPT helps with that. Now, as I look for ways to explain Y=MX+B to 8th grade students, after having been removed from that class for over 20 years, I can use ChatGPT to give me discussion prompts, examples, and even help me solve the problems so that I can review these math problems to show my students.

As most ELD educators, I am tasked with supporting and collaborating with mainstream content teachers as well as sheltered instruction. With ChatGPT, I can easily take the text the students are assigned and ask it to help me pull out the tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary with student-friendly definitions. I can also ask it to help me generate discussion questions surrounding the text we are reading, and if the text is accessible on the internet, it can give me an immediate starting point to personalize instruction. Instead of creating from scratch, it can give me a strong head start.

I also think that for ELD students who struggle with writing, especially when they get the dreaded blank-page anxiety, lowering our students’ affective filters is half that battle with writing. Giving them text already composed and having them break it down, add details, and/or add on to allow them to interact with the text and “learn” as they write is another useful way to utilize ChatGPT and other AI. While there are valid concerns about cheating with ChatGPT, I also think it opens up a great resource for students and educators. Supporting language is often creating language, and ChatGPT helps us do that without having to have a mastery of everything, as it utilizes the power of the information age to accomplish that, and we get to benefit from it.

Tips for using ChatGPT:

  • Use specific language and add grade level or ages to the prompt. Example: What are some general discussion prompts for 12-year-old students.
  • Copy and paste the text you are having students read into ChatGPT as part of the prompt when asking for assistance with vocabulary.
  • Merge other tech with AI to support learning. Example: Use Photomath for images of solving the problem while using ChatGPT to generate discussion prompts.
  • Double check and review anything generated prior to giving it to students.

Using ChatGPT in AP Classes

Pat Burns is a 15-year veteran high school English teacher with a B.A. in English education, M.A. in liberal studies, and M.A. in educational administration and leadership:

I teach juniors and seniors both at the AP and honors level and in our general curriculum. I use AI in all my courses.

Thus far, I have used ChatGPT and Dalle-2 to generate discussion questions, quiz questions, an assignment on script writing, and an assignment on creating an art gallery that focuses on the crossroads of literature and art.

For each assignment, students generally expressed interest in using AI for idea generation. There were varying degrees of success with its output, partly due to prompt generation, but also due to AI’s tendency to provide general (i.e., shallow) responses. For example, when my junior students prompted ChatGPT to make scripts that they were to then act out, they found that the scripts tended to be cliche and the characters were not particularly well-developed. They expressed interest in using Chat-GPT to get them started but would have preferred more time to insert their own voices into the script and to develop characters further.

When my senior students used Dalle-2, there was a range of responses from thinking that plagiarism was occurring to feeling liberated because AI could help them to create images that they did not have the skill to create on their own. Most appreciated using it. Although, again, students expressed the desire to cultivate their own voice and generally felt that AI generation did not currently allow for that.

Despite the criticisms they shared, they generally approved of using AI and felt that it could help them. However, due to the range of impressions with AI, I need to make sure that my classroom and students develop an agreement for when and how to best use AI, so that they may better develop their own writing, thinking, and creativity skills.

As for me, I find that using AI enhances my ability to critically think. I constantly come up with ideas and have done so for around 15 years in education. While I concede that issues of plagiarism can and do arise and, in fact, I have needed to confront students on this already, I find the AI allows me to think in new ways. For example, I use AI to help me better individualize student work.

It’s not that I am against shared experiences. I think there is a time and place for them. At the same time, I find that students perform best when I meet them where they are. So, rather than require students to always read the same text as everyone else, I allow for some choice texts in class. When I do that, engagement goes way up. Students can select and read topics of interest to them. Then, I can use AI to generate discussion questions, quiz and/or essay questions. I can also have students use AI to help locate other texts (e.g., short stories, poems, essays, songs, artwork, etc.) that are thematically related to their novel. Doing so allows students an opportunity to develop their synthesis skills. Plus, doing so helps to bring the novel alive and teaches cultural literacy.

Furthermore, I have shared how AI can be used for curriculum development/mapping at the district level. While my curriculum-mapping team is still in process with redeveloping our curriculum, AI gives us a starting place. It allows us to find common ground a bit quicker than merely sharing our individual opinions and takes the focus off of our own egocentric desires.


Using ChatGPT in Academic Writing

Brent Warner is a professor of ESL at Irvine Valley College in Southern California and the co-host of the DIESOL Podcast focusing on innovation and technology in English-language learning:

One of my early goals for introducing artificial intelligence into my academic-writing class for multilingual learners starting in January was to help students think critically about both their own writing and the content we were covering in class. We started the class by having ChatGPT analyze student writing then we immediately turned it on its head and asked students to analyze the analysis. They quickly got a sense of where this AI got things right and where it got things wrong, and in turn, they developed an understanding of how they can use it to guide their writing and thinking rather than how they might have used it to replace their writing and thinking.

As the semester unfolded and we explored more ways to integrate AI into the classroom, one technique that students found particularly compelling was to use ChatGPT to update the traditional character-analysis assignment. Our class novel was Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, and ChatGPT did a great job of helping students develop a deeper understanding of multiple characters’ motivations and attitudes. I developed a basic prompt that students could use to take on the role of a character and then to have ChatGPT interact as another character in the novel. Here is the prompt we started with:

Let’s role play. We live in the universe of the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I will take the role of XXX. You will take the role of YYY. When I ask you questions or give you comments, you will respond only as YYY. You can respond to my questions and you can ask me questions, but you will not break the role. Please reply with “Hello XXX” if you understand these parameters.

As the students began taking on roles of different characters, they quickly found that they were interested in learning things like a given character’s backstory, their insights into how the society of Fahrenheit 451 came to be, or even simple things like where they’d like to go on vacation. Students worked in groups to discuss what responses they agreed or disagreed with, what ideas were clearly pulled from the text, what ideas were hallucinated by ChatGPT, and what ideas logically followed even if they weren’t explicitly written by Bradbury. All of these ideas, good and bad, helped students develop a deeper understanding of the novel in a way that was a lot more fun and engaging than the traditional stale character analysis.

Students also began to recognize that they could begin adjusting the prompt to ensure more accurate responses. One group of students got a response where ChatGPT, taking on the role of the character Faber, began to comment on observing the main protagonist’s neighbor, Clarisse. As the students were familiar with the book, they recognized that Faber and Clarisse never interacted, so he would be unlikely to have any insights on her. They told ChatGPT that this was a problem, and it corrected course. As we moved through our weekly readings, it became clear that ChatGPT’s failures were a boon to my students’ success and understanding of the novel. They began to push back on ideas presented to them, reconsider the way they talked to AI, and use their own insights to make informed decisions about Bradbury’s message.

While many teachers and students are fretting about how accurate large-language models like ChatGPT are, my students learned that it’s less valuable to think of it in terms of accuracy and more valuable to think of it as a way to reflect and develop their own critical-thinking skills. As a hidden bonus, they never even thought about the language learning that was inherent in the tasks: reading complex ideas in English, writing clearly, editing sentences, discussing deep literary concepts, and more.

Perhaps we can all benefit from the lessons my students learned: AI should not be viewed as a fire ladder that you go up and down, using it in ways that are “right” or “wrong.” Instead, it should be seen as a body of water that we can dip our toes into, splash into for a quick refresh, dive deeply to explore, and move any direction we are compelled to at any given moment. Come on in, the water’s fine!


Don’t Shut It Down

Cayne Letizia is an English teacher at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y.:

When Larry recently posted a tweet asking educators to share how we can harness the potential of ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence to enhance teaching and learning experiences for our students, I was supertempted to ask ChatGPT, or The Bot as we affectionately refer to our AI tool within my classroom.

Unsurprisingly, it generated five really good but supervague responses.

As a teacher resource:

Recently, we completed the Gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I do after each unit, I sat down to develop a post-reading Google Survey. This time, I paused and asked The Bot to complete the task. In under 30 seconds, I had 15 questions that included extended responses, Likert scale, and multiple-choice-type questions. I trimmed these down, reworded a few, and had my 10-question post-survey ready to go in a fraction of the time. For teachers, time is a gift seldom received. Here, I now had time to focus on the results of my survey and future planning.

A colleague of mine recently generated four AI sample essays in response to four essay prompts the students would be responding to from a recent unit. Each table was assigned a different AI-generated essay in response to an essay prompt. Students annotated and worked collaboratively to apply the rubric to the AI-generated essays. Immediately, patterns began to emerge.

The essays were vague, lacked voice, lacked text evidence, and when they did have evidence, it was often miscited or incorrect. They also lacked sophisticated elaboration of the evidence. It was clear that the essays AI generated were lackluster. My colleague then moved the discussion to how the students could use the generated essays as starting points but stressed how important the students were to this process of generating, evaluating, rewriting, and editing.

Teacher promise:

I think about what AI can mean for feedback and planning instruction. Reading over 80 essays and responding with valuable feedback is part of the job. But I am hopeful that the technology will develop so that perhaps utilizing the analytic capabilities of AI in terms of pattern identification and trends may allow me to target skills. Take, for instance, an English teacher who reads over 100 essays. Perhaps AI would be able to quickly scan each essay to identify patterns in thesis statements or evidence use by course. The teacher could then get these results and create targeted and tailored lessons on specific skills for specific students.

So, as some school districts rush and panic to keep Pandora’s box shut tight from curious student fingers, they should be careful not to repeat history and lock hope away. The hope that a tool like AI could provide to students to build deeper understanding, expand their knowledge, and improve their thinking skills. The hope it can provide teachers in recapturing the precious commodity of time, specifically time spent on conferencing and providing valuable and actionable feedback.


Thanks to Jan, Pat, Brent, and Cayne for sharing their thoughts.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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