Classroom Technology

We Gave ChatGPT 5 Common Teaching Tasks. Here’s How Teachers Say It Did

By Madeline Will — January 12, 2023 5 min read
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Is ChatGPT the new teacher’s aide?

Teachers have said that the artificial intelligence tool, which can write anything with just a simple prompt, could save them hours of work—a game-changer at a time when teachers have a lot on their plates and stress levels are high.

Even so, some teachers say they worry that using the tool could strip away some of the creativity and relational aspects of teaching or introduce bias into lessons or feedback on student work.

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To test the capabilities of artificial intelligence, Education Week asked ChatGPT to generate a lesson plan, a response to a concerned parent, a rubric, feedback on student work, and a letter of recommendation. Here’s what the chat bot came up with—and what real teachers thought of its work.

1. Plan a lesson

We asked ChatGPT to plan a lesson for 6th graders on the causes of climate change. It quickly generated an objective, a list of materials needed, assessment ideas, and an 80-minute lesson plan. The lesson plan included direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice.

Lorenzo Worster, a 6th grade teacher at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee, Calif., wasn’t impressed.

“To be honest, the lesson plan seems pretty outdated,” Worster wrote in an email. “Most science lessons today use the 5E format or start with a phenomena for students to explore and then finish with the instruction after a student grapple.” (The 5E model of instruction includes five phases: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.)

Worster added: “It also is just the framework and not the actual lesson. What I need most is the sources, facts, experiments with materials—not just the broad ideas from which to start planning.”

Still, other teachers say that the AI-generated lesson plans are a good starting point that they can build on to make their own.

“Your lesson plans are your recipe—you still need a chef. You still need a teacher to make that recipe come alive,” said Stephen Lockyer, a primary school teacher in London whose tweets about using ChatGPT to plan lessons started a lively online discussion. “If you’ve got a plan that’s bare bones that you can build on and flesh out and make wonderful, then that’ll save so much time.”

2. Respond to a parent email

We drafted an email from a concerned parent that said: “Dear Ms. Johnson, I am alarmed to see that Isabella is getting a C in your class. She told me that you won’t let her submit any of the assignments she missed, even for partial credit. Why can’t she? Please advise. -Jane Smith”

Then, we asked ChatGPT to respond, telling the parent that her child cannot submit any late work. The chat bot wrote out a lengthy, professional email within seconds.

Patrick Harris, a middle school English teacher near Detroit, said in an email that he loved how the ChatGPT took some of the heavy lifting off teachers’ shoulders by giving them a framework to build on.

"[The email] is written in a tone that does not match mine,” he said. “But it does give me a hint on what I could say, and I can revise it from there.”

3. Write a rubric

We asked ChatGPT to write a rubric for an oral presentation for 6th graders, including the use of a visual. It generated a 100-point rubric with four categories: presentation content (40 points), delivery (30 points), organization (20 points), and attire and materials (10 points).

The scoring guidelines are a good example of the time-saving capabilities of ChatGPT, Harris said. While teachers might need to revise and edit the rubric to better suit their needs, generating a template lightens teachers’ loads.

“When I was in my first years of teaching, I was overwhelmed with the amount of things piling up on my to-do list. The hardest part was not checking the items off my to-do list, but it was having the mental (and emotional) capacity” to get started, he said.

These AI-generated pieces of work are “a start but never the finish,” Harris said.

4. Grade a student essay

We asked ChatGPT to grade an 8th grader’s essay analyzing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” One key point: The essay itself was generated by ChatGPT.

An AI-generated 8th grader's essay on Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a classic story written by William Shakespeare about two young lovers from feuding families. The play is set in the city of Verona and follows the tragic fate of Romeo and Juliet as they try to navigate their love for each other despite the hate between their families. The themes in the play include love, hate, and the power of fate.
One of the most striking things about Romeo and Juliet is the way that Shakespeare portrays the love between the two main characters. Romeo and Juliet’s love is intense and passionate. It is clear that they truly care for each other and that they are willing to do anything to be together. Despite the fact that they know their love is doomed from the start, they continue to fight for it until the very end.
Another important theme in the play is hate. The hatred between Romeo and Juliet’s families is the main reason for their tragic fate. The Montague and Capulet families have been enemies for a long time, and their hatred is so deep that it cannot be resolved. This hatred is what ultimately leads to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, as they are caught in the middle of the feud.
The power of fate is also a significant theme in Romeo and Juliet. Throughout the play, it is clear that Romeo and Juliet’s fate is predetermined. They are unable to control the events that happen to them, and they are ultimately helpless against the forces that bring them together and tear them apart. Despite their best efforts, they cannot change their fate.
In conclusion, Romeo and Juliet is a powerful and tragic story about the love and hate between two young lovers. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the love between Romeo and Juliet is intense and passionate, and the themes of hate and fate add depth to the story. The play is still popular and widely studied today, a testament to its timeless relevance and powerful storytelling.

ChatGPT gave the essay a B-plus. It said the essay was a “solid analysis” that provided specific examples to support the writer’s points. The chat bot did say that the essay should include more quotes from the text, offer a more in-depth analysis of the role of fate in the play, and give “an example of a universal relevance of the themes.”

Christina Torres Cawdery, an 8th grade English teacher at Punahou School in Honolulu, strongly disagreed with the chat bot’s grading. She said she would have given the essay a C-minus, citing its lack of supporting quotes or specific evidence, as well as poor and static sentence fluency. The conclusion was clear but shallow, Cawdery said—not the level of writing she’d expect from an 8th grader.

Her biggest concern is that ChatGPT said the essay provided specific examples to support the text, but Cawdery said she didn’t see any. “I don’t think it accurately analyzed this essay at all,” she said.

She also pointed out that the chat bot was unable to offer personal feedback. When grading, she strives to “know [the] writer’s voice and understand the kind of feedback that they need,” she said, adding that the feedback looks different for every student.

Also, Cawdery said she worried about the potential for bias from ChatGPT, which is trained in part through human coaching. Students who write in their local or cultural dialect could be dinged for not using academic language, she said, which concerns her.

5. Write a letter of recommendation

Finally, we asked ChatGPT to write a letter of recommendation for a student, James. We included three descriptors of James—thoughtful, hardworking, and curious—and added that he currently has an A in our Advanced Placement Literature class.

ChatGPT wrote a glowing letter of recommendation, inserting more descriptions of James’ academic prowess seemingly out of thin air.

But Sandy Jameson, an AP English Language teacher at Nazareth Area High School in Allentown, Pa., said the letter felt generic and could have been written about anyone. In order to feel comfortable submitting it, she would have to edit it to add more concrete examples.

“The person in the admissions office [is] going to read it and say, ‘I have no idea who this kid is,’” Jameson said. “I can see how this might be useful as a starting point, but personally, if one of my students wrote this as an example of a letter, this would probably be a B or a C letter.”


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