Artificial Intelligence

We Need to Talk About A.I. Essays

I’m going to share an unpopular opinion. I am excited about the potential of artificial intelligence as a tool for teaching writing.

On my Twitter feed today, at least three educators shared that they (once again) discovered a student using an AI-generated essay to complete an assignment. This is met with reactions ranging from frustration, to anger, to “What is this world coming to?”

I understand the concern about plagiarism and dishonesty, I really do. But… hear me out. I believe the good far outweighs the bad.

The post you’re reading now was originally going to be uncommon solutions for writers block. I considered writing again about the Comic Sans trick, and I also considered writing about binaural beats (also very cool). As I was working on these, I stumbled across AI essays.

I tried it out, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it gave me chills up my spine.

I asked AI to write me an essay on curing writer’s block with AI. Here’s the result:

Generating an AI essay can help you overcome writers block. It doesn’t mean that’s the essay you turn in. You can read it through for phrases or words that jump out at you. You can try out a few different topic choices to help with selecting an idea. An AI essay generator might help you articulate something you’re having trouble putting into words — like talking with a writing partner without the social anxiety.

But what about the plagiarism? It is a genuine concern, and no small problem. It’s not the only weakness of AI essays, either. Below, an AI-essay elaborates on its own shortcomings:

A knee-jerk reaction to the inappropriate use of AI essays is to ban the technology completely and without exception. In my lifetime calculators, cell phones, spellcheck, and Google were all treated similarly in school. It’s unlikely that any of those tools are going to disappear. I wonder if AI will fall into the same category as time goes on.

Maybe it’s time to teach students how to harness the potential of AI, rather than fight it. AI-generated essays can serve as mentor texts. Students can use a writing checklist or rubric to assess an AI-generated sample, helping them understand why a human-generated essay is better.

Let’s hear what an AI-generated essay says about using an AI essay as a tool to learn from:

When assignments require literal comprehension of the material and require a formulaic response (such as a five-paragraph, or expository essay), AI is very good at doing that for a student. If the assignment is a concise, literal, reporting of information, an AI essay makes a great mentor text.

What if students were taught to compare and contrast AI essays with more sophisticated essays, discussing what makes them different, and how to make their own essays “better” than those generated by AI. They’ll learn that AI essays are fairly easy to spot when the assignment was to do more than summarize the content in an organized way.

If a shift were made to require an extension, application, persuasive argument, or more personal or creative response, AI technology could only serve as a building block or jumping-off point for such work.

Students might then see AI tools as a support, rather than a substitute for an assignment.

Let’s hear what AI has to say about what it cannot do:

Perhaps AI-generated essays can provide lessons for teachers. Perhaps we’re on the cusp of a movement in education toward assignments that invite more sophisticated and creative thinking—and writing.

7 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About A.I. Essays

  1. I was on an interview team today seeking a candidate for a new position in our system. When asked to describe herself as a teacher of writing she said, “Let me say one thing first. AI is here to stay. It can write an essay. But it can’t write YOUR essay.” And I loved that.


  2. What an interesting post to read, especially today when I listened to a keynote presentation on this very thing. We have so much to unpack with this technology, but you are right, it’s not going away. How can we make it work for us rather than against us?


  3. Hi Beth,
    Let’s face it, there’s no banning AI that will work. It is here to stay and will grow in popularity; teachers will need to find ways to leverage it for good. You’ve offered some good possibilities, I think, but I’m also thinking about the human writer whose essay will get kicked to the curb when teachers turn to AI for mentor texts. Years ago when I coached debate and we had paper journals and the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature, I spent hours down the rabbit hole perusing the guides and journals for unique speech topics and ideas I’d not think of otherwise. I had students who won state competitions and competed at the national level as a result of those sessions. That’s no longer possible because computerized guides and journals do not lend themselves to such research. That is, I think of what we lose as well as what we gain w/ each technological iteration. Right now I’m not seeing the most ethical use of AI among many. I hope that changes. For it to change, leaders like you are necessary to guide those seeking easy rather than helpful uses of AI.


  4. I love your ideas to engage students in discovering the strengths and shortcomings of AI. I think that asking students to join you in this inquiry will help kids realize that AI is a tool, not a way to cheat. Thanks for taking on this tricky topic!

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  5. Beth- you are brilliant. Trying to ban it or ignore it is so unwise. Figuring out how to work with it and how to educate our students to leverage this kind of tool wisely and for good is the only option.


  6. I do not think that I could agree more!! I hadn’t thought of the many, many ways to incorporate AI into my instruction (so, thank you!), but I do know that once a new technology has arrived, we are doomed unless we embrace it and work with our students to find the potential, rather than trying to hold it at bay. My students have heard me say on more than one occasion, “Use that machine (school-issued chromebook) in front of you for good, not evil!”


  7. Beth, I think you are so right to urge us to think about the possibilities ai may offer. It isn’t going away. I was originally so worried about the implication Ai would have on teaching but read a different post early on that helped me to think differently. I hadn’t thought about some of the ideas you shared here. Thank you!


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