AI & Teaching Writing

I have had the distinct opportunity this past week to directly address the presence and use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the writing classroom. For those of you who may yet be unaware of what I mean by AI, I mean Chatgpt and its many spin offs – Chat Bots, in common parlance – with the technological capacity for generating content for many reasons and uses, not excluding wholesale start to finish student essays. At this time, chatbots are defined as “conversational tools’ ‘ used to complete “routine tasks efficiently” in order to help the users to get on with the more demanding and engaging activities that require human capability.

Students in our middle school are enthralled. In my eighth grade class this past week, at least six students utilized chatbots to generate essays. Five of these essays were turned in to me as complete drafts representative of work authored by the students who turned them in. It was obvious to me that the work had not been authored by the students. They were questioned. They confessed and school administration was informed. That is all fine, good, and appropriate, but what I want to write about is a bridge apart: The power of student voice.

The students I teach represent a range of capacities, from students for whom words come quickly to students who question every thought that crosses their mind. I teach students who raise their hands with a fully formed opinion before I finish the question I am asking, to students whose heads are down and the drawstrings on their invisibility cloaks secured the moment they take a seat.
Still: I want to hear from them all. I want each student to believe that they have a voice unique among voices, that they have opinions shared with peers they may have no idea share them until expressed, and that no matter what the topic at hand may be, their voice matters and what they have to say matters – and: what they have to say matters.

Chatbots produce. The machines bring tasks to an end, make them easier. They are perfect capitalists. Got a job? Done.

But I don’t teach students how to write only so they can get a job done, or so that their writing is grammatically perfect, well formatted, or technically correct; I teach students to write so that they might discover what they think and believe, how to sit with the struggle to find the words to express an idea or opinion or vision they might not have even known they had before they started writing. I teach students to write so they can realize the gift it is to be the only beings on earth to be able to see things metaphorically, symbolically, or spiritually – and then name them. I teach students to write so they can discover who they are, so they can find their unique voice among disparate voices, and so they can begin to anchor themselves in an ethics and understanding of existence that will carry them forward. And I tell students and I tell students and I tell students: Your voices matter. Your voices. I tell students: find your voice. Find your voice and I will honor your voice.

There is what I call an ocean at the door. You can imagine, as can I, what it means when a door with the ocean at it opens: Near impossible overwhelm. But only nearly impossible. I believe that our students can think and produce and create and imagine and inspire and discover worlds upon worlds on their very own – and that they can make their thoughts known to us on their own. I recognize that technological tools are inevitably available to them; what I caution is the extent to which these tools take them – and us – over.

Heidi Goodwin

Heidi Goodwin has taught at the ANCS middle campus since 2012. Ms. Goodwin has a Master’s Degree in English/Critical Theory, as well as more than 30 additional hours in Education. She taught one year on Austria as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant at two middle/secondary schools there. Her B.A. is in both English and German.