Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Is Today | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends today, Feb. 23. Register now.
Classroom Technology

Teachers Ask Better Questions With Feedback That’s Frequent, Personal, and AI-Generated, Study Shows

By Olina Banerji — December 08, 2023 4 min read
061323 ai coaching fs schwartz 1490936364
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s been a year since ChatGPT stormed into classrooms. Its most common users have been students looking for homework aid—or shortcuts—and teachers who use it to create tailored, on-the-spot lesson plans.

A group of researchers, though, are asking a new question: Can generative AI help teachers teach better?

New research released in November shows that when teachers engage with frequent, personalized and on-demand feedback about their teaching practice, they ask richer, more analytical questions in their mathematics or science classes. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland, Harvard University, and Stanford University, also found that teachers engaged with feedback when it was directly emailed to them, suggesting that feedback needs to be provided in a succinct and accessible manner.

The feedback in question comes from an AI-powered tool called TeachFX, in which recorded classroom audio is put through a large-language model that’s trained to identify when a teacher uses a particular instructional strategy, like the use of focusing questions. Such questions allow students to reason out an answer instead of just recalling it. The tool generates a personalized report for the teacher detailing how often they asked questions, how much their students talked in class, and how often the teachers pressed students for explanations.

“Changing teacher practice in math and science is an uphill battle. I’m excited about the results of this study because the intervention is low-cost, it’s private to teachers, and it’s voluntary. And the study shows that there are improvements in a particular instructional practice,” said Heather Hill, one of the researchers and a professor in teacher learning and practice at Harvard University.

One of the big challenges of providing teacher feedback at scale has been instructional coaches’ caseloads. While AI can’t replace that human contact, it can tag and process classroom transcripts much faster than humans. So coaches potentially can use data from AI tools to tailor their feedback to teachers, if they can’t themselves observe teachers as frequently.

The research is among the first to test AI feedback in in-person K-12 classrooms, rather than college or online classrooms.

Questions got better. But what about the teaching?

The study a working paper released in November by EdWorkingPapers, a project of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, has not yet been peer reviewed.

Researchers randomly assigned 532 teachers in Utah into two groups. All teachers had access to the basic version of TeachFX—the ability to record and generate audio snapshots of their classrooms. But only the teachers in the treatment group were sent a weekly email about their use of “focusing questions” and tips on how to structure them.

The study found that the treatment group, over the course of five weeks, asked 20 percent more focusing questions than the control group. The treatment group teachers also opened up their email 55-61 percent of the time over five weeks, and they also viewed their class report generated by TeachFX at a greater rate than control group teachers.

Hill said the researchers picked focusing questions as an intervention strategy because it helps teachers structure instruction for students.

“A focusing question might begin with this problem and say to students, ‘why don’t you look at this and tell me how you’re thinking about the problem? Does anyone have any ideas about how you might solve the problem?’ Focusing questions could open up space for students to start thinking and communicating about their mathematical ideas,” Hill added.

Hill and her co-authors were puzzled, though, that an increase in focusing questions didn’t lead to any noticeable difference in how much students spoke in class, student reasoning, or teachers’ uptake of student ideas. (Uptake here refers to a teachers revoicing a student’s contribution, elaborating on it or asking a follow-up question.)

“We had hypothesized that would happen as a result of more feedback that increased the use of focusing questions,” said Hill.

The feedback is private. That will clash with change

TeachFX keeps teacher feedback private, and no principal or coach can access the data, unless teachers share it with them. But teachers surveyed at the end of the study had concerns about how their data might be used, hinting at potential challenges to widespread adoption of these teacher-feedback tools.

In 13 interviews done with a subset of the whole group, teachers worried about scrutiny if the data were to be accessed by their superiors; noted that the transcripts were “imprecise” about how much student voice was recorded; and said they didn’t have the time to sift through all the feedback and data being sent to them.

The last observation isn’t surprising to Julie York, a high school teacher from South Portland High School in Newport, Maine.

York said she’s occasionally used TeachFX in her classes over the last two years. “I love that the tool gives me a breakdown on how much I talked vs. how much my students talked. It also gives you word clouds on the most used words in class. I can see if students are using the words I teach. I can also see if “what” or “help” are the most common words used by them,” York said.

York found TeachFX through her own research. Teachers might be less inclined to use these AI platforms as a feedback tool if their district or school requires it.

Hill understands that issue, but believes that there are ways to aggregate data at a school or district level that would hide personal information. Then, teams of teachers and coaches could use the instructional data alongside test scores and other information to plan teaching.


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology AI Is Common Thread Through the Big Challenges Schools Are Facing, New Report Says
Recruiting and retaining educators, cybersecurity, and scaling innovation across schools are some of the biggest challenges.
3 min read
School-aged boy using laptop in classroom.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Classroom Technology 8 Tips for Schools to Avoid Chaos in the Age of AI
Most district leaders are in the beginning stages of figuring out how to integrate AI into K-12 education.
6 min read
A group of researchers studies elements impacted by artificial intelligence
Kathleen Fu for Education Week
Classroom Technology What Is Age-Appropriate Use of AI? 4 Developmental Stages to Know About
Child development experts and teachers offer advice on when K-12 students should start using AI-powered tech and for what purposes.
11 min read
Elementary, Middle, and High-school age children interact with a giant artificial intelligence brain.
Kathleen Fu for Education Week
Classroom Technology New York City Schools Went Online Instead of Calling a Snow Day. It Didn't Go Well
The nation's largest school system attempted remote learning again since the pandemic, but got it interrupted by technical difficulties.
5 min read
A woman plays with a child who is sledding in New York's Central Park Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Technology glitches kept many New York City teachers and students from virtual classes Tuesday—the first attempt by the country's largest school system to switch to remote learning for a snow storm since the COVID-19 pandemic.
A woman plays with a child who is sledding in New York's Central Park Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Technology glitches kept many New York City teachers and students from virtual classes Tuesday—the first attempt by the country's largest school system to switch to remote learning for a snow storm since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frank Franklin II/AP