The following article comes from Tabatha Sheehan FRSA, Head of English and Media at Westonbirt School, UK.

One of my colleagues recently asked me how I felt about ChatGPT and the general rise of AI, sparking a thorough debate about its positives (access to information, personalised learning, and content creation) and its negatives (information reliability, lack of critical thinking, cheating and – of course – Skynet-style human annihilation). That many feel threatened by AI – often seeing it as a precursor to their own displacement – is of salient importance, but I would argue it is more important that educators continue to innovate and adapt. We cannot stop the growth of AI, or how our pupils choose to use the internet more generally, but we can work alongside it and teach our pupils the best ways to make use of it.

The ability of AI to write essays is seen as a particular challenge to English teachers in all educational settings – particularly as it can, and will, produce a different answer to the same exam or NEA question, such as ‘Explore the presentation of Lady Macbeth, on various occasions. This does, obviously, make it easier for pupils to ‘cheat’ with assignments, coursework and prep, but as a starting point, we must stop assuming that this is what the majority would do. Secondly, I hope that more English teachers will find this AI opportunity a hugely exciting resource! How fantastic to not have to spend hours writing or sourcing these various essays yourselves to use for modelling, independent or class review and critical responses.

Recently, my A level English Language students and I spent a lesson asking ChatGPT exam questions and each time we reviewed their answer: it was an excellent opportunity to assess and challenge their knowledge (What did the ChatGPT answer miss out? How important is what they missed? What did it use that wasn’t perhaps relevant to the set question?). We created a success criteria using the mark schemes and examiner reports and marked each one against it; finding patterns and weaknesses. We reworked them – focussing on the content missing and the academic language and style of the responses. It was a brilliant lesson – the pupils’ content knowledge, critical thinking skills, essay writing skills and debate skills were all challenged… and we did all of this with just our collective brain power, a laptop, a projector and a board pen. I didn’t have to prepare any paperwork or PowerPoint in advance, and the lesson helped create resources for their revision – we posted screenshots and photos of the pieces and our board annotations on Teams, which I or they could print off anytime for their hard-copy notes and which I could add to my departments SharePoint for other teachers’ resources.

That lesson is only a micro example of how we can make use of AI in the classroom (and out of it – we had a great debate about the reliability and depth of the information it gave us) but one that I will continue to reflect on and celebrate. We spend much of our time inspired by creativity in English; why should we treat the creativity of an algorithm differently to the creativity of a poet? We need to engage with and appreciate both, with the same vital focus on critical thinking and communication that has always permeated the ethos of English. 


Tabatha Sheehan FRSA, Head of English and Media at Westonbirt School, UK