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AI Check-In with Kate

Nicole has been doing the bulk of the blogging while I have been settling back into the routine of being a classroom teacher after being out of the classroom for two years working for the Maine Department of Education as a digital instructional design coach. So much has changed since I was last in the classroom (2020-2021) and I’ve been busy rewriting curriculum and focusing on the ethical and responsible use of AI with my students. 

As we head into spring (and soon…summer!) I thought now would be a great time to take a minute to share what has been happening in my English class regarding AI use.

Starting the Semester off Right

I began my semester with my juniors by discussing AI use and sharing my acceptable use letter. My students had not tried AI and none had a ChatGPT account, which I found surprising. But through discussion, I teased out that it was because all they had heard about AI was that it was cheating, so they stayed away from it. While going over the acceptable use letter, they were shocked to learn that they could use it for so many purposes that had nothing to do with cheating.

I also sent a permission slip home to parents regarding our use of ChatGPT in the classroom. While I had a 100% return rate, I did hear from a couple of students that their parents were not happy that we’d be using AI, but the parents did not follow up with me. On the other hand, I had a parent attend parent-teacher conferences because he was excited to learn about what we were doing with AI – and he was incredibly pleased to know that his child would be learning how to use it in school. 

More surprisingly, I have learned that my students are healthily skeptical of AI. They try it out with me in class, but about half of them are not using it outside of class to support their learning. And I think that’s great. They’re working out how they feel about the adoption of this new technology and how that fits into their lives. The same thing happened with the adoption of the Internet – some people jumped in feet first, and some waded in the shallow end for a while. And all approaches are valid.

AI to the Rescue?

One of the first AI exercises I do with my students is to show them how to use it to get targeted feedback on their writing. I give them a prompt (adapted from the work of Eric Curts) that includes a link to an example conversation that I created as a model and have them try it out. The example I provide helps them see how generative AI use is a collaborative process – it’s a conversation. It’s not a “plug it into AI and take the first thing that you get” situation. It’s much more than that.

While my students are working with ChatGPT for feedback, I use Brisk Teaching to give them targeted feedback on their writing. We then evaluated all of this AI-generated feedback and wrote reflections about how we used it and what we thought about it. You can see one of my student’s reflections here – I think it’s pretty enlightening!
And I worked on a workflow for using Brisk to support my own work! I now let Brisk do all the targeted feedback for the language standards (spelling, grammar, usage) and then I use the “Glow and Grow” feedback to generate a longer, global narrative that I make my own and record on Mote for my students to listen to. This gives them so much feedback in a way that is digestible and actionable. And it saves me time so that I can focus on creating lessons and working directly with my students.

Poetry and App Smashing

This year, I introduced my students to Canva by focusing on the built-in AI tools, specifically, Magic Media. During our poetry unit, while studying mood and tone, I asked my students to use AI to create an image that demonstrated either the mood or the tone of the poem “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams. 

This led to a great class filled with conversation about how we were engineering our own prompts to get the best output. 

A couple of students grew frustrated that they couldn’t get Canva to produce their vision. This allowed me to talk about “app smashing” with AI – using two or more AI tools together. I gave my students a prompt to use in ChatGPT: “I would like you to generate a prompt that I can use to generate an image. My image needs to include…” ChatGPT then generated a prompt for them that they could paste into Canva and help them generate the images that they envisioned. They used the prompts, edited them, and refined them until they got exactly what they wanted.

We talked about this use case: was it ethical? They decided that it was: the activity wasn’t focused on prompt engineering, it was on how they identified the mood or tone of the poem. And they still had to do that work because they had to tell ChatGPT what their image needed to include. This opened up the door to talk about the use of precise language (essential when prompt engineering) and how to communicate our ideas clearly when writing. The app smashing was all on the fly – I hadn’t planned that in my lesson, but it opened an AI door for us that allowed for deeper conversation and thought.

Wait, This is Garbage!

There are times in class when students are stuck and I might suggest that they turn to AI to help them brainstorm to become unstuck. If I suggest we turn to AI, I always follow it up with, “Would that be an ethical use of AI?” and let them decide. 

One day while my students were producing podcast episodes, I realized that a group seemed to be stuck when it came to developing a name for their group. I suggested that they turn to ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas. They decided that would be an ethical use of AI, so they opened up the app and started working on a prompt. A few minutes later, I heard one of the students exclaim, “Wait! This is garbage!” 

As it turns out, their prompt started with “We are three teen girls who are making a podcast about…” This identifying information led ChatGPT to create titles that all included words like “girl power,” “glitter,” and “sparkle”…you get the idea. They were horrified. We paused class for a minute and talked about bias. 

I had talked to them about AI bias earlier in the semester, but this opportunity allowed them to see it in real time. They worked on editing their prompt to try to remove as much bias as they could – in the end, they felt successful and the entire class got to discuss how prompting can generate bias and how we might work to avoid it.

Digital Dystopia: Are We Already There?

The advent of AI made me revamp one of my favorite literature units: my digital dystopia unit over Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The essential question for the unit is “How does technology impact our society?” In the past, we’ve focused on social media because that has been the most pressing technology issue for my students. But this year, we’re focusing on AI.

While they read Fahrenheit 451 and discuss how Bradbury envisioned technology’s impact on society, we will learn more about AI together. We are just now beginning that unit, so I’m doing a lot of frontloading about how AI is being used in the world today. We’re reading current articles and watching YouTube videos on a range of AI topics: AI in medicine, AI used for surveillance, AI in education…everything we can get our hands on! We’re about to dig into our school’s databases and see what is being published about AI as an emerging technology. This frontloading will help them develop their own AI-based research questions using the Question Formulation Technique; they will use these questions to guide their independent research project.

I can’t predict what AI topics they’ll choose; I’m excited to watch how this all unfolds and I hope to share some of what they find in a later blog. And while it might seem like I use AI a lot in my English class, I want to remind you that Nicole both believe that we should just use AI to use AI. When we use it it should feel purposeful and organic. It should be used to redefine what we do in class with our students. Keep your beginner’s mindset as a co-learner, embrace the ambiguity of this new technology and how we might use it, and be willing to try (and fail!) so that you might learn how to do it better next time.

Stay curious, stay innovative!

Two Maine Teachers Logo and words Kate

AI Transparency: Chat GPT was used to help develop this post.  Chat GPT 5%, Human 95%.  I use it to maximize the readability. Here is the prompt that I used:Prompt: “Read this blog post, DO NOT change the content.  Give me feedback on SEO* (Copy and Paste blog post)” *SEO is Search Engine Optimization.

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