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It's possible to use generative AI like ChatGPT in your writing instruction and still help students develop original and creative assignments

How to teach writing skills in the ChatGPT era


It's possible to use generative AI in your writing instruction and still help students develop original and creative assignments

Key points:

When ChatGPT appeared in November 2022, most educators felt it could become a threat and change the whole niche forever. No wonder: This language model algorithm is smart enough to produce logical and grammatically correct texts for any prompt.

Today’s digital-savvy students welcomed ChatGPT with open arms and began using it for writing assignments. According to a new study from Academic Help, 67 percent of students use AI for creating texts – the basis for their essays and other papers.

The issue here is not only about the academic integrity violation. AI tools are on the rise, and students use them for different purposes:

  • Grammar checking
  • Citation generation
  • Plagiarism checking
  • Generating topic ideas, outlines, and reference lists for academic papers

Like it or not, AI is here. While 42.55 percent of students say their schools don’t allow AI tools, we understand it’s not the proper solution to the problem. It won’t go anywhere, and teachers can’t separate students from access to this technology.

Instead, it’s time to accept the challenge and reconsider our methods and practices in teaching writing skills to our mentees. Moreover, it’s worth teaching students how to use AI tools wisely instead of blaming mentees for using them.

As educators, we have skills to promote genuine writing experiences and guide students in their work with ChatGPT or other AI writing tools. Below are a few suggestions on how we can teach and assign writing now.

Invite ChatGPT to your classroom

Why not embrace it as a teaching opportunity? Use ChatGPT to engage students in grammar lessons and help them learn information literacy.

Look:

We know that ChatGPT is not as intelligent as many believe. It often makes mistakes, provides false information, and remains biased on many concepts. With AI texts, you can begin a class discussion and encourage peer collaboration.

Give students an essay that contains grammatical errors and ask them to edit it. Ask ChatGPT to do the same and then compare the results. Let students review ChatGPT’s version and discuss the accuracy. Not only does it help them better learn and remember grammar rules, but it also reveals the limitations of the AI program.

The same goes for citations and facts ChatGPT shares. We know it often makes up citations, gives wrong answers, and can’t distinguish between true and false online sources. Teach the CRAAP test to students and challenge them to evaluate the information from ChatGPT through it.

Such practices will illustrate to students the program’s drawbacks, promote digital (and information) literacy, and develop the skill of double-checking ChatGPT’s answers rather than taking them for granted.

Redesign your writing assignments

ChatGPT can replicate general, so-called traditional writing tasks. It writes logically and grammatically correct texts, defines terms, and can present counterarguments. But, this technology is less effective with deep analysis and critical thinking. With that in mind, redesign your writing assignments accordingly.

Say no to Wikipedia-like tasks focusing on nothing but a mere fact presentation. Defining terms, listing elements, and explaining general concepts–ChatGPT will generate these within seconds. Instead, assign tasks requiring thinking skills:

  • Ask to analyze or apply specific concepts to specific situations.
  • Assign writings about specific illustrations, charts, or passages from readings.

ChatGPT takes the information from 1- to 2-year-old data. With that in mind, assign writings about current events or something specific that happened in your class.

Given that ChatGPT answers questions based on the already-available online information, you can encourage students’ original thinking: Ask them to present some conventional pearls of wisdom from a different perspective.

Make them focus on the process, not the final result

Students used to get grades for final products: complete essays, reviews, thesis papers, etc. They know no one will care about how they wrote those papers; a teacher will read and evaluate the final draft. Such an approach doesn’t work in the ChatGPT era anymore–a good solution would be to return to a process-based approach, assigning credits and points for different stages of paper development. Ask students to share outlines first or annotate their drafts to show where they made changes while writing. Assign annotated bibliographies as a separate task or make thesis statements (research proposals) an individual assignment.

Gone are the days when standard 5-paragraph essays ruled and were enough to get A+. Encourage creativity: Ask mentees to present their final drafts in unusual forms: infographics, presentations, writing portfolios, etc.

Rethink the assessment system

ChatGPT makes us rethink both how and why we assign writing tasks to students. Do we want them to develop argumentative and critical thinking? Are we aimed at making them remember the course material better?

Depending on the why, the way to assess writing assignments might differ.

With ChatGPT at hand, students can produce grammatically correct essays and format them in any style. Why focus on these technical aspects when assessing if even a robot can manage them?

Give more credit for specific, not general. Reward thinking skills, specific examples, a student’s personal connection to the learned material, exclusive arguments or unusual approaches they describe in essays, etc. These are elements AI tools can’t produce.

Assess understanding and thinking. Promote regular, short in-class writing assignments instead of focusing on one large term paper at the end of the semester.

Last, but not least

Let’s remember to listen to our students’ voices.

Yes, ChatGPT and other AI tools can produce tons of lengthy texts. But let’s face it: Those texts are as dull, generic, vague, and lacking context as if a student who hasn’t done the reading wrote them.

There’s no voice or identity in AI-generated essays, unlike that of our students. As teachers, we should promote writings that reflect mentees’ identities and perspectives. Please encourage them to try new writing strategies and genres, reward them for putting their voice into texts, and don’t ban alternative structures or humor in essays.

After all, it’s our privilege as human writers.

Related: 5 things to know about ChatGPT in education

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