We English teachers have been struggling with plagiarism forever. It’s nothing new. However, with AI, and ChatGPT in particular, it’s getting much easier for students to pass in a paper they did not write. That doesn’t mean the essay is dead, though. It just means that we need to change the way we do things if we want our students think and learn. I’ve given you an overview of how English teachers can deal with this dilemma, but today I want to get more specific with two ways to deal with ChatGPT in English class.
- Focusing on the process to ensure students are doing the work
- Using conferencing to find out what they are learning
Our world has changed and it includes ChatGPT
I’m going to date myself here, but when I was in school, the only way to avoid writing a paper was to actually get a real person to write it – one you had to see face-to-face because there was no internet. We were even limited to the Coles Notes that were available in local bookstores or libraries. Basically, you had to be very desperate or lazy to make it happen.
Fast forward to today and students can now type the requirements of your assignment into ChatGPT and it will produce a passable paper for them. If they take the time to get the tool to tweak it and make it better, that assignment can be even better than passable (if you haven’t tried it yet, I suggest you do. You need to be aware of what this tool is capable of).
So we can complain to our colleagues and rant to loved ones. We can warn our students about consequences and “only cheating themselves.” But the fact remains, it’s here. It’s not going anywhere, and many teens will use it.
ChatGPT could be good for English teachers
Give me a minute here. I am not going to suggest that you use it in your classroom. There are lots of ideas out there for how to do so – just Google it and you will get lots. This post is not about that.
Instead, I want to show you a way that AI just might be good for English teachers because it’s going to focus on what’s most important: the thinking and learning process. This new technology means that plagiarism is easier – and harder to detect. So if we keep assigning take-home papers, we open the door for lots of cheating.
The solution to this is that we require students to do more of their work in class. It means that we need to put more focus on the learning process itself, rather than the end product. And I believe this is a good thing because our students will learn more – and that’s always a good thing.
So let’s get to the specifics with two ways to deal with ChatGPT in English class.
Focusing on the writing process
Daniel Herman wrote in The Atlantic that this new tool “may signal the end of writing assignments altogether — and maybe even the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill.”
Isn’t that a depressing statement?
It is, and not because of ChatGPT but because it infers that the only way to get students to use writing to think – or at least to assess it – is via an end product. And it’s the focus on that end product (and its grade) that pushes students, not confident in their abilities, to cheat.
However, if you build your class around teaching students the skills they need to think and learn and write, not only will they build their skills and confidence, but you will see the work they do. If they have done nothing in class, if they cannot show you their process, then where did that final paper come from?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The writing process is important. But you need to submit grades. How do you do that with a process-based approach?
Assessing the writing process
I’ve written lots of posts about this and I will link them below, but here’s a summary for you that can help you visualize how this can work. I’ve used it with any writing assignment I’ve done in my class. It’s not a theory. It’s not just something I came up with when ChatGPT came along. It’s an approach I used for decades in a real classroom.
- Break down the steps that students need to follow to be successful in completing the assignment: pre-writing, drafting, revision, editing, etc.
- Create mini-lessons that show students how to do what they need to do, using lots of examples so they can “see”
- Give them time to do each step in class
- Require them to pass in evidence of each step (or conference with you)
- Give them a completion grade for each step
But doesn’t this require more grading and paper work for us?
It doesn’t have to. There are several ways you can hold students accountable without burying yourself in paper:
✓ Get a clipboard with your class list and a grid of all of the steps you want students to complete. As you see each student complete each step, they get a check mark.
✓ Require students to pass in each step of the process along with their final copy. My students had to pass in their prewriting, first draft, and revision notes in a writing folder.
But how do you assess this, and how does it prevent plagiarism?
First of all, you can give students a completion mark for each step. Whether you use the clipboard method or the writing folder, assign a grade to each step. I gave them five marks each for the required steps. I gave their outlines and drafts a very quick perusal to see if it was finished (and matched the final copy) and if they put effort in, they got 5/5.
And here’s the kicker: I didn’t read a final draft until the students produced the steps of the process. And because we spent so much time in class working on it, the students would always have at least some of this work done.
Make the revision process visible
The revision notes were the most important part of the process for me. We did a lot of revision the old fashioned way – on paper. I wanted students to print their drafts so they write all over them during this step.
I provided them with highlighters and crayons, so they could see where they wanted to make changes. This process also helped me quickly see that they were doing the thinking – and writing – themselves.
For example, when we worked on sentence variety, I had them underline the beginnings of each sentence in their longest paragraph. Then, I had them choose another one and use three different colors to highlight short, medium and long sentences. This allowed them to quickly see if their sentences were varied or not.
When I looked at their drafts I could quickly assess whether a students did the work or not. I didn’t have to read the whole thing, just spend a couple of minutes (or less) looking to see if the work got done.
Did this make the grading process a little longer. Yes. But I soon developed strategies to lessen that, ones that made it even better for student learning too. My next suggestion for dealing with ChatGPT is also one that will help you cut down on the time you spend at your desk grading.
Use conferencing to deal with ChatGPT
When I started conferencing with students, it was a game changer. I am going to link all of the posts I’ve written about conducting and managing conferences below, so you can get the details of why and how they enhance student learning and cut back on your grading.
However, let’s talk about how conferences can help you deal with ChatGPT in English class. Conferences happen during the process and help students improve their work. They also hold them accountable as it’s super easy to assess whether they have the work done or not.
It’s also a wonderful opportunity to help them get the work done.
Let me show you an example:
Let’s say my students are working on their first draft of a narrative essay and one of the skills we’re focusing on is idea development. I tell students that I’m going to have a quick chat with each of them, and I want them to locate a paragraph in their draft that shows me where they have fleshed out an idea with lots of showing details.
I go to Jesse and he shows me that he’s got it. I congratulate him and move on.
Then, Brianna shows me a paragraph that is mostly just ‘telling”. I pick a sentence and ask her how she could show me this instead of tell me. She quickly realizes what I mean and suggests some ideas. “Perfect,” I say and move on while she scribbles down some ideas.
Next is Justin, my most reluctant writer. He’s staring at his very thin outline and has a sentence or two of a first draft. I sit beside him and ask him about his topic and suggest we just focus on one idea. I talk him through coming up with some showing details, and even write some notes down for him as he talks. I tell him I’ll be back in ten minutes to see how he got along. I come back in ten minutes to see a few more sentences and… more staring. I congratulate him on the work he did and try to get him to do a little more.
By then end of the class, I’ve got a good idea of where each student is, and the ones who are struggling got some help. But they also knew that the expectation was that they complete the work.
This was an example of what I call a Quickie Conference, one where I just circulate in class and conference at the desk. The more formal conference takes place at my desk or in the hallway, where we can have longer conversations about their work.
Do conferences solve everything? Do all students do all of their work? Of course not, but in my experience, it’s an effective strategy that leads to more students doing more work..
And in terms of dealing with ChatGPT, a focus on the process and on work done in class means that students will be held more accountable for doing the work themselves. There’s no doubt that some plagiarized assignments still slip through the cracks, but a focus on the work in class means that there are fewer of them.
So, focusing on the process and using conferences are two ways you can deal with ChatGPT in the classroom. (check out this full lesson plan for discussing it with your students)
If you have specific questions about how this works, please reach out. You can also get a lot more detail about using a process-based approach and conferencing in these blog posts:
👉🏻 If you want ready-made resources to help you with this: