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Stop and Breathe: Unpacking the Hidden Controversy of ChatGPT

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In the waning weeks of 2022, the eduverse blew up when teachers far and wide learned about the existence of ChatGPT. Publications ran alarmist headlines, like this one in The Atlantic: “The End of High-School English.” Of course, ELA teachers are not suddenly looking for new careers with apprehension (we hope), nor are the strong feelings about ChatGPT isolated to English classes. However, the perceived threat of this technology has resulted in plenty of knee-jerk reactions, many of which are as ill-advised as they are quick on the draw. Instead of reading every single hot take about why ChatGPT is or is not helpful in our classrooms with a growing sense of panic or celebration, it might be better to pause and consider a measured approach, one that is admittedly hard to follow with so much noise around us. There are so many reasons why jumping to conclusions about ChatGPT and other AI in relation to education is premature, no matter what it can or cannot do – which will continue to change anyway.

Nothing is a foregone conclusion.

One of my favorite expressions is, “Don’t borrow trouble.” Our brains might rush to determine how this new technology will manifest in teaching practice, but perhaps avoiding the urge to make assumptions in this case is a wiser approach. Will many students use ChatGPT to cheat? Well, yes. But an imagined future of humanity foregoing the art of writing in favor of a computer-generated product is likely a skewed version of the state of reality to come. For one thing, highly intelligent individuals like this 22 year-old Princeton student are already designing applications that are designed to foil the likes of ChatGPT. For another, there is something to be said for the classroom spaces teachers create. If we continue to show students how human emotion and intelligence matters by consistently demonstrating how capacity and growth is dependent upon not being utterly reliant on a machine, kids will be able to better understand their value on a more profound level. And if teachers affirm student ideas and thinking, that will more strongly exemplify why taking shortcuts does nobody any favors in the long run. 

AI might be quick, but we don’t have to be.

As humans, we have the gift of reflection. Yes, we can give ChatGPT a prompt and it spits back a reply (usually impressive, sometimes less so) in mere moments. However, teachers have more time not just to assign work, but also to provide instruction and to assess student responses. We also have the option to collaborate with colleagues to engage in deep reflection and analyze how students are doing and compare writing from one set of classes to another. If AI can create an essay in the blink of an eye, that doesn’t mean that teachers need to analyze student writing just as quickly or figure out how to look at the technology as a supplement to instruction rather than a hindrance. Instead, experimenting with ChatGPT and looking at what others might be doing to differentiate student work from bot-produced results is well worth the exploration. 

Meaningful relationships are still the gold standard.

When the school day ends, it can be hard to convince even the most reluctant students to leave the building sometimes. Why is that? Perhaps some of their attachment to being at school is social, but another reason is that the physical space of a hallway or classroom often represents a safe zone. Good teachers know their students, both from a personal and an academic perspective. We know what students like and dislike, what type of work they create, and how they write. If enough time is spent building more profound connections within the learning environment, any piece of writing that a student produces with teacher feedback along the way as opposed to a computer-generated result is probably distinguishable. If students submit writing that is completed outside of class and teachers are concerned about who the author might be, the best way to determine whether ChatGPT created something is to interact with kids consistently throughout the time that they go through the stages of the writing process, from brainstorming initial ideas to outlining to creating a rough draft. The more we know about their work, the less they can use technology to create shortcuts. 

Challenges present opportunities.

The other day, I observed a classroom in which students were comparing ChatGPT compositions to human ones, trying to guess which was which. Nearly all the kids in the room were highly engaged in this endeavor as they looked for reliable indicators of what a robot might do in comparison with a person. They concluded that at least for the time being, it’s possible to “beat the bot,” as they put it, in a variety of ways. In addition to seeing students work so actively with AI features in a way that built their cognitive understanding of the writing process, it was also inspiring to see their openness to what this technology is helpful with, and what it might not be able to do just yet. Rather than being intimidated by ChatGPT or assuming that their own writing was no longer relevant, this group of students and their teacher were building a better understanding of how writing capacity works. To see this approach was not just enlightening for everyone; it also reinforced the notion that while there are downsides to this new technology, there are also many advantages to be found, should we be open to that possibility. 

The reason that ChatGPT has garnered so much attention so quickly is not just because of its capability, which will continue to grow over the months and perhaps years to come. It is also because so many people are afraid of what it can do, and with that apprehension comes a justifiable concern that artificial intelligence will replace the systems and structures we rely on. However, making progress is dependent on understanding new technologies as they become available and leveraging them to our advantage, not metaphorically blindfolding ourselves to pretend it’s not happening or blocking technology that is still not fully understood. Still, before anyone goes any further with making big decisions about the future of ChatGPT in schools, it might be wise to take some time to become familiar with new options without making any snap decisions about where to go next. The answers to complex questions tend to reveal themselves when given enough time and consideration, and the speed of the bot itself should not be something we attempt to emulate. By slowing down and taking some time to pause, we stand to reap far more benefit from new advancements, both for ourselves and our students.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS