Recently a bunch of you have been asking, “So, Dave, what're your thoughts on ChatGPT? Is this the end of English? The end of teaching? The end of thought!?!?!?!?” And while I'm already exhausted by all the hot takes on this in the education world, I am willing to give some lukewarm takes after having thought about it for a while and tried the ChatGPT out a bit.
But first, I'm not an expert on cutting edge instruction. Such expertise holds no interest for me. I do not desire being the best or brightest or most successful. I am, instead, confident that I am a good teacher and confident that I get better every year. I am also confident that each of my students tends to experience an enjoyable and productive learning environment each time they're with me. I'm grateful for and satisfied with this.
So, ChatGPT. A few thoughts:
1) The hubbub is familiar, yet Everest still stands.
I remember similar buzzing when things like online courses were coming out. And then with individualized learning platforms. And then when all the Teacher YouTubers started publishing top-notch content that made my instructional abilities seem like those of a cognitively average cow. And then oh-my-goodness-the-noise-and-pressure during the shift to distance learning.
Through all of this, I've had one Everest for my work with students: in my classroom, we are all about becoming better thinkers, readers, writers, speakers, and people.
And so, in a world with ChatGPT cranking out cogent written responses to school prompts, guess what? That old Everest statement is as relevant as it's ever been, thanks completely to the fact that I made it to be plain and timeless.
2) “We can use it to guide thinking,” but I probably won't any time soon.
As I was saying, I'm not the cutting edge instruction guy, so I don't have plans any time soon to use ChatGPT with my students. But I hear the folks who are saying it could be used cleverly during parts of the brainstorming or drafting or research or discussion process, to which I say, “Cool.” I am positive that there are brilliant applications of this new technology in all kinds of classrooms. At the same time, I am positive that even in a ChatGPT world, the most common form of technology used by my students will still be the spiral notebook.
3) Credible teachers need to keep casting the vision about what school is for.
In the travels and conversations and research and writing that led to my coming book on student motivation, I've become rock-solid convinced of this truth: most students don't know what school is for. Most students don't hear enough adults speak of clear and compelling cases for school. And as a result, most students experience school as something done to them rather than a work of love crafted for them. (And indeed, in too many cases, school is the former, not the latter.)
In my classroom, that's one thing the Everest statement helps to remedy. I tell my students that we're doing this work of learning not simply because we'll use it someday — bleck — but because the journey of learning is going to transform us into people we'll never become if we forgo it. There's just no escaping the realities of how our minds change — through work done with care.
And so, will it be possible for a student to pass off ChatGPT writing for her own in school? I'm sure it will. But will such passing off do much for the growing of the student — for advancing her ability to flourish long-term? I don't think so.
These are the kinds of conversations with students that interest me most right now regarding ChatGPT. I want to have these conversations curiously, passionately — but not adversarially, not antagonistically, not from a place of “I'm afraid ChatGPT is outmoding my job.”
Because frankly, there's no cause for those latter things.
It's not us in contest with our students.
It's not us against them.
And there's not a technology around that can replace the power of a Credible teacher with students.
Teaching right beside you,
P.S. You know what'd be a great help in a ChatGPT world? Teacher Credibility signal boosters.
No fluff. No clutter. Just the best PD in the world on helping students to care about the work of learning. If you register by Feb 1, you get a complimentary copy of my new book when it comes out in April.
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Mary Lou Baker says
Thank you for discussing this. I’m coming to grips with it as a teacher. With a son majoring in technical writing, I do wonder how it will affect his career. However, hopefully an English degree can carry over in lots of ways.
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Mary Lou, here is what I would request you tell your son: ENGLISH DEGREES ARE THE BEST!!! I’m being silly there, but also so serious: I can’t think of a better education than that offered by an English degree in college. It’s a potent tool with which to approach life.
Mary Lou Baker says
Your expert opinion means the world to me! Thank you for responding and thank you for being the teacher leader I’ve learned so much from over the years.
You always have the best words to say the right thing! Perhaps that’s hyperbolic, but not at all sarcastic.
How much better a place our school would be did every teacher talk like this to every student! I’m grateful for your perspective and the way you share it.
Here’s my contemplation right now: what does it take to affect change to this degree at a pervasive level? And when is the best time to have that conversation at a large-scale level? Is this the kind of thing a teacher adjusts in class in February? Or the kind of thing an admin poses to teachers in March? Or do we time these things more deliberately?
*By these things, meaning conversations about vision and purpose and how to communicate those well to students.
Somewhat rhetorical questions as you address this topic regularly enough that I just need to dig back through past articles and reread some of your books!
Thanks again, Dave.
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Zach, you’re the man. Thank you. I like where your head goes re: how to get this kind of change happening in a building pervasively. My best answer, at this point in my career, is that it takes an over-the-top administrator who models the behavior relentlessly. I’ve got one right now, and I’ve seen a few others in my career. They OVER-communicate certain ideas and these ideas very quickly become pervasive in the environment.
Thank you, Dave! I appreciate you articulating many of the ideas that have been swirling around in my head on this topic. This statement is especially powerful: ” we’re doing this work of learning not simply because we’ll use it someday — bleck — but because the journey of learning is going to transform us into people we’ll never become if we forgo it. There’s just no escaping the realities of how our minds change — through work done with care.” I want to make a poster of this!
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Judy, when you make the post send it to me, will ya? If for no other reason than for both of us to appreciate the fact that a sentence can both A) use “bleck” and B) speak to souls. (It speaks to me, too.)
Dave, I really appreciate how this blogpost reinforces what you’ve been writing for years about the need both to craft a vision of what school is for and to intentionally, frequently convey that vision through our words and actions. And I completely support the vision you’ve been putting forth, especially in the face of fears about a “great replacement” by AI. A musician-YouTuber named Adam Neely put it well in his video “Will AI replace human musicians?”: even if AI starts creating music (or writing or art) at the level of human creators, it will still be fun to humans to create those things. The video is worth the thirteen minutes for anyone who wants to hear him elaborate. I gain a renewed sense of purpose from engaging with the thoughts of earnest teachers like Adam and Dave–thank you, Dave, for all the hope-giving knowledge you’ve shared over the years!
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Joe, I went looking and I found the video. You are right — so so so good. Link here for folks who want to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdgGwDsN0xI
I don’t think I fundamentally disagree with anything you say here, but I have one question/comment. You say, “And so, will it be possible for a student to pass off ChatGPT writing for her own in school? I’m sure it will. But will such passing off do much for the growing of the student — for advancing her ability to flourish long-term? I don’t think so.”
I think this highlights the problem that leads to the hubbub of which you speak. Maybe this is not a problem for you and your students because all your students are on board with your “Everest,” and while I have a good number of students that would are as well, I most certainly have students who are not aligned with those large goals.The only goal of these students is a grade in a class. These students when given the opportunity to achieve that grade with little to no work will take it. And it is because I still have to teach these students that ChatGPT is a problem that needs to be addressed and not simply left to ignore.
Hey Tyler! Thank you for this comment. What you’re getting at is the problem of student motivation — of whether or not students generally care about what school is about. That’s basically what this whole blog is about, you know?
I don’t intend to ignore it; I intend to keep cultivating care in the hearts of young people.
Does that make sense?