¿Amigo o Enemigo?
By Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed.
The short answer: Don’t fight progress – embrace it, learn how to better prepare kids for their future with AI AND use it to save yourself time with a few important caveats.
ChatGPT is free, works in English and Spanish, and generates text on any topic in seconds. You can use it to generate readings, sample readings, explanations of grammatical concepts, lesson plans, songs, poems, narratives, and the list goes on. ChatGPT frees me up to focus more on the aspects of teaching that make a difference for my kids – building relationships, differentiation, formative assessment, instruction design, being present and less stressed out…you get the idea.
Integrating ChatGPT also benefits students in the long term because it prepares students for success in the job market that they will enter. ChatGPT will likely become increasingly relevant because its user base, accuracy, capabilities are increasing exponentially and rapidly. Students’ competitiveness in their careers will depend partially on their ability to be productive with this tool. Unlike most AI, ChatGPT is expected to shake up the landscape for white collar workers in industries as varied as healthcare and computer science (Lowrey, 2023).
Back to the classroom. ChatGPT is just what the busy Spanish teacher necesita – no wasted time searching for the perfect “lectura” (text). Effective language instruction is coupled with learning about culture and now I’m able to generate texts in seconds AND I can even center them around a Latin American country, cultural point of interest, holiday, grammatical structure, etc. Differentiation and personalized learning, those lofty teaching ideals that can feel a bit heavy when you mean well but have 35 kids in your room, have become that much easier to attain with ChatGPT. It’s possible to generate texts about diverse aspects of culture in seconds and make adjustments for interests, length, rigor, etc. (Kuo & Lai, 2006) (Salaberry, 1999; Rost, 2002).
Flexible Texts for Creating Lessons That Address ACTFL Standards
ChatGPT effortlessly generated texts about the pre-Columbian cultures of Peru, Mexico, and Puerto Rico respectively that used the subjunctive mood for my classes. Additionally, ChatGPT was kind enough to make comprehension questions for each reading as well. ¡Muy buen amigo indeed! All I had to do was type in “preguntas de comprensión sobre culturas pre colombinas de Perú” and I had seven great questions for each reading. Students learned about the products and practices of indigenous cultures of Latin America directly through these readings which could be used as an integral part of an endless list of interpretive, interpersonal, or presentational activities.
The possibilities for quickly generating texts about any aspect of culture using any grammatical structure with ChatGPT to address World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages from the American Council of Foreign Language Teacher’s (ACTFL) are seemingly endless. As an example, students could use the texts below to form comparisons between pre-Columbian cultures and identify intercultural influences in an interpretive activity. In small groups they could engage in an interpersonal activity to support a subsequent presentational activity comparing and contrasting the indigenous cultures. Mi amigo ChatGPT kindly provided me with a list of prompts for students to use in guiding them with comparing and contrasting as well (ACTFL, 2022).
Engaging Grammar Instruction
With mi amigo ChatGPT I have access to texts and comprehension questions about almost any topic that highlight any grammatical structure in Spanish so my students have more frequent opportunities to use text to identify and explore the uses of grammar in context. Research shows that students are highly motivated to learn grammar through the tasks of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. While reading and learning about culture, students are exposed to the subtleties of the use of grammar and gain a better understanding of the nuances of the language (ACTFL, 2022).
Interestingly, I was not able to ask ChatGPT to create an essay comparing and contrasting pre-Columbian cultures using the subjunctive tense because each time it wanted to compare and contrast the use of the subjunctive tense in the respective cultures. This is actually not even a valid discussion given that pre-Columbian cultures didn’t speak spanish. The description of why the subjunctive would be used was accurate however the premise of the ChatGPT’s essay was that the Aztecs and the Mayan spoke Spanish.
“El subjuntivo es un tiempo verbal que se utiliza para expresar acciones inciertas o deseos. En las culturas precolombinas, el subjuntivo se utilizaba a menudo en los rituales religiosos para expresar deseos o peticiones a los dioses. Por ejemplo, en la cultura azteca, se utilizaba el subjuntivo en las oraciones de ofrenda a los dioses para pedirles prosperidad y buenas cosechas.”
“Otra cultura precolombina que utilizaba ampliamente el subjuntivo era la maya. En esta cultura, el subjuntivo se utilizaba en los textos jeroglíficos para describir eventos futuros o inciertos.”
This could be user error because I may not have known how to ask mi amigo ChatGPT the right way to elicit the correct response. However I think it’s safe to say that at a minimum it’s not easy to figure out how to create a cultural comparison with the subjunctive mood in Spanish – at least for now.
Cheating or Opportunity to Analyze Texts?
Only one kid so far tried to pass a paragraph written by ChatGPT by me and honestly I could tell even though I was not using any software to monitor his computer. I didn’t need Edward Tian’s GPTZero app either. I’ve been a teacher and a mom long enough to recognize vocabulary, verb conjugations, and style that is unusual for teenagers to use. Also he seemed to know a lot about the topic for someone who wrote the paragraph in about five minutes.
In the sample texts that ChatGPT generated for me about pre Columbian cultures you’ll notice similarities in style and depth. First of all, the wording is very similar, as is the paragraph length, sentence structure, etc. Another noticeable attribute is how general the information is.
Since the likelihood of the student not using ChatGPT on another assignment again in any other class is pretty low, I decided to illustrate a point to him about the tool. I told him that the information lacked depth and sources. We looked over it and agreed on specific places where more information would be important to the reader and which insights it would provide in the overall cultural context of his topic.
When he finished finding sources and editing his work, he presented a much more robust discussion. We discussed the differences in the two writing pieces and he admitted to using ChatGPT for the first one. We then talked about the differences in his experience as a learner from writing the first to the second piece and also about how ChatGPT might change writing academically and professionally given its capabilities and limitations. As ChatGPT improves undoubtedly it will become harder to spot so easily but like everything about technology we’ll learn how to work with that as it comes.
Spontaneous Classroom Connection & Fun
When one of my students wondered aloud what rap in Spanish sounded like I casually offered to write a rap about the subjunctive. That definitely got their attention and quickly became a challenge that I confidently accepted knowing that I had an amigo who could help. The rap was actually a really great explanation of the subjunctive and pretty catchy. A comment from a student quickly turned into kids making beats and rapping about the subjunctive in Spanish. It was a great learning moment and maybe most poignantly, technology facilitated spontaneous fun and connection in my classroom.
I’d love to hear how it’s going in your classroom with ChatGPT. Please comment below. 🙂
American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages. (2022). Teach Grammar as a Concept in Context. ACTFL Language Connects. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.actfl.org/resources/guiding-principles-language-learning/grammar-concept-in-context
American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages. (2022). World-readiness standards for learning languages – ACTFL. World Readiness Standards For Learning Languages. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/publications/standards/World-ReadinessStandardsforLearningLanguages.pdf
Claybourn, C. (2023, January 18). CHATGPT in classrooms: What to know | high schools | U.S. news. ChatGPT in Classrooms: What to Know. Retrieved January 21, 2023, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/chatgpt-in-classrooms-what-to-know
Kuo, M.-M., & Lai, C.-C. (2006). Linguistics across Cultures: The Impact of Culture on Second Language Learning. Journal of Foreign Language Instruction, 1(1).
Lowrey, A. (2023). The Atlantic. How ChatGPT Will Destabilize White-Collar Work. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://apple.news/ArNwgCNfBRA6Y9xCCQp5G2g
Rost, M. (2002). New Technologies in Language Education: Opportunities for Professional Growth. Retrieved October 12, 2006 from http://www.longman.com/ ae/multimedia/pdf/MikeRost_PDF.pdf
Salaberry, R. (1999). CALL in the year 2000: still developing the research agenda’. Language learning and technology 3/1: 104-107