How an AI-Powered Tool Accelerated Student Writing

Artificial Intelligence

How an AI-Powered Tool Accelerated Student Writing

from Digital Promise

By Abbie Misha     Nov 27, 2023

How an AI-Powered Tool Accelerated Student Writing

This article is part of the guide: How AI is Writing the Next Chapter in ELA Instruction.

As educators seek innovative methods to engage students and enhance the learning experience, artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be an invaluable asset. For English Language Arts (ELA) teachers, AI-powered writing tools help to provide immediate feedback, guiding students through the writing process and fostering a more personalized approach to learning.

Victoria Salas Salcedo, a Bay Area middle school teacher who recently achieved National Board Certification in English Language Arts for Early Adolescence, has incorporated artificial intelligence in her classroom for the past three years. With a range of experience in visual arts, English language development and multicultural studies, she strives to create an environment where all learners feel welcome, valued and empowered. Recently, EdSurge spoke with Salas Salcedo about the lessons she has learned through her use of AI-powered writing tools, such as Project Topeka, a program she piloted last school year.

EdSurge: How did you introduce the topic of AI to your students, and how did you address any initial misconceptions they had?

Salas Salcedo: Thankfully, with Project Topeka, AI was so seamlessly integrated into the program that it just felt like a natural step in the writing process. So, introducing AI was relatively easy because my students were used to the writing process and going through revisions. Having this AI-powered tool give immediate feedback was really exciting to them because they didn’t have to wait a week or more for me to read critically through all of their papers.

Of course, at first they were wondering whether or not this tool would write the papers for them, and to their dismay, it just directed them to do more writing. [Laughs.] Some of my higher-achieving students — many of them being early finishers — were shocked when they received less-than-perfect scores on their first submission. I had to explain that this tool was unbiased and was being used as a resource. I asked them to look at the feedback and look at their work a little bit more closely to see if they really truly were meeting rubric expectations. For students on the other end, they were encouraged because they had immediate, direct feedback that would show them the exact space in their writing where they could improve. As their teacher, it was amazing to see students go back to the revision process multiple times. It was almost like having an extra teacher in the room, coaching them through the writing process.

A concern that I had not anticipated was students gaming the system. They would try to just change a word or move some words around to get a higher rubric score. Some students would resubmit up to 80 times, which was not the outcome I was aiming for. They weren’t being thoughtful or deliberate, and that was disappointing. But I know now to teach them to be more judicious and purposeful in their resubmissions.

What are some of the most common concerns or questions that you’ve encountered when integrating AI tools into your teaching? How did you approach them?

Some students had a lack of trust in the idea, believing that the AI would do all this work for the teacher and that maybe the teacher would no longer do the grading. They would think: This is just a machine. It doesn't matter what I write. It doesn't really see me.

So, when I worked with Project Topeka in my classroom, I let students know that the AI was just a tool that we were using and that I would be doing the grading. Regardless of what the AI says, I'm still going to grade it. I do not feel comfortable letting students' reflections of learning be based on what a machine calculated. But adding this tool to my class — Wow! I got the most growth that I've ever gotten in a year of writing instruction, and I haven't been able to replicate that because I don't have that extra “body” [the AI-powered writing tool] in the room this year.

Teaching students about how to use AI in a way that enhances their learning is going to be the next hurdle that we overcome. I think that if we can offer AI-powered tools in the classroom, that's really where we're going to be able to leverage it for growth and for learning purposes. Don’t just open the Wild, Wild West of AI; we don't need that. We need tools with specific purposes that are user-friendly and that educators feel comfortable handing over to students without the worry that it's doing the work for them. My hope is that developers talk to teachers, see what we need, come into our classrooms and see where AI could be used to streamline things that are overwhelming us so that we can focus on teaching.

What advice would you give to other educators who are considering implementing AI writing tools into their classrooms and may encounter concerns from their school communities and families?

Before you introduce AI to students, try it out. Try using it to simplify some of the things that you're spending a lot of time on, like writing directions to assignments. Try some of the tools out there that can build slides, modify them to your needs and start saving some time on your own. You'll have your own understanding of the purpose of AI. Once you understand the purpose, bringing kids along is just the next natural step.

Then, with that understanding, introduce the tools to students as just that — tools. Introducing it with an ethical lens is what's going to make the difference between students using it as a way to cheat and students using it as a tool. Because really what we want is for students to be able to leverage AI to deepen their learning, to extend and multiply their growth throughout the year. Introduce it in small applications in class; use it to help the students have an extra partner there with them. It should be a tool that frees up your time to do the one-on-one teaching that we don't have enough time to do because of all of the smaller things that we're dealing with.

How do you envision the role of AI in education evolving?

I would like AI-powered processes that allow me to be all over the room simultaneously. I can't sit with every student while they're working through a reading passage. If AI could respond to students' misunderstandings with probable reasons why while they're reading and have them interact with that, it would be amazing. If AI could help with the writing process even more than we already are, that's a huge area of need. Students aren't getting enough practice because teachers can’t read and respond fast enough.

We need help in our classrooms. What better way to use AI than having it act as an extra assistant in the classroom so I can be everywhere and really work with students who need more than just the AI? This could open up a whole other portal of possibility. Anything that can drive student growth is what I'm hoping for. Teachers are burning out, and AI is just one way that we can help alleviate some of that stress.

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